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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kursk Sailors Get Monumental Tribute

MTSailors placing wreaths at the new bronze statue honoring the Kursk crew outside the Armed Forces Museum on Monday.
Two years to the day since a torpedo explosion sent the submarine Kursk to the bottom of the Barents Sea, relatives on Monday remembered the 118 sailors who died on board.

Flags were at half mast and prayers said in churches, synagogues and mosques as relatives of the crew members gathered in Vidyayevo, where the submarine began its last journey, and in Moscow, Kursk and St. Petersburg.

Despite a government commission ruling that Russia's worst peacetime submarine disaster was an accident, feelings remain high among relatives that the true reasons for the sinking have yet to come out.

In the Arctic navy base of Vidyayevo, relatives gathered Monday for the unveiling of a black marble monument in the shape of the submarine's conning tower. They then threw flowers into the Barents Sea.

"This pain will now linger on until the end of our days. It will never die," Lidia Silagava, mother of one of the sailors, told NTV television.

Few relatives were present for a ceremony in Moscow, which attracted criticism from both relatives and press. A grand 5-meter bronze statue was unveiled outside the Armed Forces Museum depicting a sailor, his fist clenched across his chest, as a crippled submarine beside him slips into the sea.

"One of the best submarine crews of the Northern Fleet died," Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, the head of the General Staff of navy, said at the Moscow ceremony. "It is a memorial to courage, heroism and grief."

The museum opened a small exhibit showing photographs of crewmen and bits of equipment salvaged from the Kursk.

Relatives of the crew complained that few family members were invited to the ceremony in Moscow. Those attending had to pay their own travel expenses.

"They will not forget to invite the president and the Moscow mayor, admirals and generals. As for the Kursk families: who cares," Captain Igor Kurdin, chairman of the organizing committee of the St. Petersburg submariners club, said on Ekho Moskvy radio last week. "The relatives have now been pushed to the background. Priority is now given to publicity."

Other absentees from the Moscow ceremony were President Vladimir Putin, whose initial inaction after the disaster had been heavily criticized, and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

"It's not clear to me," wrote journalist Alexander Yemelnikov on the front page of Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Monday, "in the name of what and for what embodies a disproportionate statue of a 5-meter sailor and a toy submarine that has been put up."

Why, asked Yemelnikov, for an event that arose from "negligence, technical defect, a mistaken decision spiced with 'Russian sloppiness'" should "a statue be placed in front of the main museum of the country that glorifies the victory of Russian arms."

Many of the dead sailors' relatives and a number of Russian newspapers refuse to accept the government's enquiry into the disaster, which ruled that the submarine's sinking was the result of an accidental explosion for which no one was to blame.

The 133-volume report says the explosion that sank the submarine was due to a faulty torpedo. A leak in the torpedo's propellant -- an unstable mixture of hydrogen peroxide -- caused the blast. A criminal investigation into the accident has since been dropped.

The report also said none of the crew could have been saved from the submarine despite remaining alive for hours after the explosion on Aug. 12, 2000. Two years ago, the government had been harshly criticized for its slow reaction and reluctance to call in foreign aid.

A television documentary on Sunday said the navy knew within hours of extensive damage to the Kursk but officials hid the information for days, prolonging the agony of relatives, Reuters reported. The bungled rescue operation and often callous attitude shown to the relatives highlighted the decline of the Russian navy.

"The more we get to know the official material the more questions we have," Boris Kuznetsov, a lawyer representing 40 families of the dead sailors, was quoted by Interfax as saying Monday.

A poll by the All-Russia Public Opinion Center showed the Russian public divided over what they believed to be the cause of the disaster. Twenty-eight percent seemed to back the state commission's ruling by saying the submarine sank as a result of an accident.

Almost the same number, 26 percent, believed that a lack of preparation caused the accident, while 17 percent said the disaster was caused by a subversive act and 16 percent by the crew's negligence.