Sick in the Urals, and Elsewhere

The Defense Ministry’s suddenly got its hands full of sick conscripts in the Urals, Kaliningrad, and possibly Novosibirsk.  It’s also just a little defensive about the situation.

The situation sounds like it’s close to getting out of control.  First, it points up the poor health of many Russian conscripts coming into the army.  It  undermines Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s talk of “humanizing” conscript service.  And it returns us to the issue of the cuts in military medicine that several commentators have decried.  The issue of swine flu in the Urals is of more general concern. 

This round of problems with sick conscripts surfaced on 16 January when Konstantin Tsybuk died of pneumonia.  He served in v / ch 86727, the 255th Combined Arms Training Range in Chebarkul.  His duty officer, a Lieutenant Igor Gurov, didn’t report finding him ill, or seek medical assistance.  Investigators are now looking at negligence charges against Gurov.  The 20-year-old Tsybuk left a wife and infant daughter behind.  ITAR-TASS has reported there are 63 other pneumonia cases in Chebarkul’s military hospital.

As early as 19 January, RIA Novosti reported 25 soldiers from various garrisons were in Chernyakhovsk’s hospital with pneumonia.  A Baltic Fleet prosecutor was also on scene checking sanitary, heating, and clothing conditions in their units.

Svpressa.ru gave a full run-down on other reported pneumonia outbreaks in the army, including 100 cases in Novosibirsk, and 26 in Saransk.

On Friday, a conscript named Yevgeniy Lantsov apparently died from swine flu (A/H1N1 – California / Mexico) in the Chelyabinsk Oblast Clinical Hospital.  Lantsov was drafted from Kemerovo on 20 December, and served briefly in v / ch 69806, the first-rank air base at Chelyabinsk / Shagol.  He was the leading edge of a swine flu outbreak in Chelyabinsk.  Four locals have died since, and RIA Novosti reports 50 cases in the city.

On Monday, conscript Sergey Vasilyev serving in v / ch 55059, a training regiment at the former PUrVO junior specialist training center in Yelan, died of pneumonia in the 354th District Military Hospital in Yekaterinburg.  The Main Military Investigative Directorate is currently investigating his death for evidence of negligence.

The Defense Ministry’s mounted something of a PR campaign to counter bad publicity about sick conscripts.  Krasnaya zvezda advised citizens not to be alarmed about the “sanitary-epidemiological situation” in the Armed Forces.  It claimed the military’s sickness rate is down 21 percent on average compared with last year, specifically down 24 percent in the Western MD, 15 percent in the Central and Eastern MDs, and 11 percent in the Southern MD.  It says pneumonia cases are down 15 percent, and most are mild. 

Of course, we aren’t told what the absolute numbers were last year (or over many years), only about a relative improvement.  And none of these districts even existed last year, so there is lots of room for fudging the numbers. 

Vesti.ru covered Serdyukov’s visit to Tyumen and Tomsk last weekend where he outlined Defense Ministry efforts to prevent further outbreaks:

“A decision’s been made:  where the temperature drops below minus 20 degrees (-4° F), guard duty will be cut from two to one hour.  And outside drills will be moved indoors.”

“The entire central Defense Ministry apparatus is strictly following these issues.  Each of my deputies is observing a distinct region, how the situation is taking shape there.”

“I submit that we’ll handle the situation.”

Serdyukov was in Tyumen looking at establishing a presidential cadet school, ironically, on the grounds of a former military-medical institute where army medics were once trained.

Vesti.ru reported that sick conscripts said their barracks were practically unheated, and they had to sleep in their uniforms. 

Serdyukov ordered the Chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate, General-Major Aleksandr Belevitin and a team of specialists to the area to investigate and check on measures to prevent further spread of viral and acute respiratory infections.

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