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Despite Government's History in Disasters, Putin Says Trust 'Real Investigation'

Russia -- Candles placed at a memorial for the victims of the Kemerovo mall shopping center fire. March 26, 2018
Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

President, Russia

“Social networks, as you know, are a turbid source, regrettably. Therefore, one must rely on the results of the real investigation.”

The official number of 53 deaths is challenged by first responders and relatives

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin told the relatives of victims of the Kemerovo mall fire to trust the official information rather than the social networks.

Putin met with the group of relatives of victims at the Kemerovo Bureau of Criminal Forensics on March 27.

“We need information. Gossip spreads, because of the absence of information,” – a grieving man told the president.

“Social networks, as you know, are a turbid source, regrettably. Therefore, one must rely on the results of the real investigation,” Putin answered.

A woman then asked, “Do you understand that right now people do not trust the authorities?”

​Russia’s Investigative Committee – the federal government agency appointed by Vladimir Putin to investigate the March 25 blaze in the Siberian city mall – reports of 53 confirmed deaths and 38 reported as missing. [At the time of this publication]

The investigation confirmed several facts previously labeled by authorities as social media rumors. For instance, it has established that the doors of the movie theaters were locked with people inside, the fire alarm system was malfunctioning, and the entire building was constructed using highly flammable materials.

The Russian media reports of 64 deaths, 41 of them children.

There is wide disagreement on the number killed in the mall fire among relatives, first responders and social media.

About 4,000 people participated in a spontaneous rally in Kemerovo, demanding the authorities release the “true numbers” of the victims.

Social media videos show first responders claiming they have transported about 300 bodies of victims to morgues from the site of the disaster.

In one of the videos, a man speaking to the rally in Kemerovo identifies himself as a doctor, one of the first responders, who says more than 70 per cent of the 300 bodies reported on social media were children. The report is unverified.

​Relatives of the victims formed a group that is conducting its own investigation, announcing Tuesday it found 64 dead bodies in the Bureau of Criminal Forensics, matching media reports.

However, the news agency Interfax reports the group also said the number of missing is greater than the government acknowledges – the relatives claiming among the 85 names of the missing, about 70 per cent are children aged 10 to 13.

Relatives and social media followers only learned the fate of Class 5A of Treschevsky middle school from the student’s posts amid the chaos of the fire. The class was watching a movie in the Kemerovo mall theater, with all doors locked and their teacher out shopping. The teacher survived while her students died. One of them, Maria Moroz, posted on social media four short messages in the period of 1 minute. They read,

“We are burning.”

“I love you.”

“All .”

”Possibly good bye.”

Maria’s name later appeared in the list of the victims.

Maria Moroz of the 5A Class, victim of the Kemerovo mall fire
Maria Moroz of the 5A Class, victim of the Kemerovo mall fire

There has been no official comment regarding the fate of the class 5A.

The Investigative Committee confirmed on March 27 information officials earlier labeled “social networks gossip” – that the parents of the dead children were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements before being allowed to enter the morgue to identify the bodies.

“It is done for their own good,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement, without providing any details or explanation.

Distrust of official Russian government pronouncements in past disasters dates back to the drowning of the crew of the submarine Kursk in 2000, and the government’s delayed response.

In the hostage crisis in Moscow Dubrovka Theater in 2002, where many of the 130 died succumbed to sleeping gas, the Russian security service had pumped into the hall.

In the Beslan school hostage crisis in September 2004, Russian state media and authorities initially concealed the number of hostages, announcing fewer than 200 when the actual total was 1,128, of which 777 were children. At least 385 died during the three day siege, most of them in the government rescue operation.

Tuesday, March 27, the parents and survivors of the Beslan school disaster gathered in solidarity inside the school gym where hundreds of their loved ones died and placed burning candles on the floor forming words “Kemerovo” and “We are grieving.”

The vice-governor of the Kuzbass region, Sergey Tsivilev, speaking at the rally in Kemerovo on March 27, said to the relative of shopping center victims, “Are you advertising yourself on this tragedy?”

​Tsivilev later knelt down to apologize after the man, Igor Vostrikov, told him that he has lost his entire family in the fire, including his wife, his three children and his sister. Vostrikov accused the authorities of lies and misconduct.