Ukraine IDs Russian Bodies, Contacts Soldiers' Mothers

Women back home are receiving photos of their sons' bodies, and critics say it's cruel
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 15, 2022 3:36 PM CDT
Facial Scans of Dead Lead Ukraine to Russian Mothers
A man looks at a destroyed R-149BMR Russian Armored Command and Signal Vehicle on Friday near Brovary.   (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Throughout the war, Ukraine has spoken directly to the mothers of Russian soldiers. A month ago, defense officials told the women they could travel to Kyiv to collect their POW sons. Last week, per the Wall Street Journal, President Volodymyr Zelensky told the women that Russian troops killed civilians in Bucha, adding, "I want every mother of every Russian soldier to see the bodies." Ukraine now has taken another step to bring the pain of war home to the women, the Washington Post reports, by using facial recognition software to identify dead soldiers, then sending sometimes-gruesome photos of the corpses to their mothers back home.

The shock can be brutal. "Why are you doing this?" one Russian woman wrote back after being sent a photo of her son's body in the dirt, a grimace on his face and his mouth open. "Do you want me to die? I already don't live. You must be enjoying this." The Ukrainians have scanned the faces of 8,600 dead or captured soldiers so far and broken the news to 582 soldiers' families by sending a photo of the body. The US firm behind the software, Clearview AI, has built a database of billions of photos pulled from social media sites, per the BBC. "It kind of works like Google," said CEO Hoan Ton-That. "But instead of putting in a string of words or text, the user puts in a photo of a face."

A surveillance researcher in London is concerned that the practice could set a troubling wartime precedent. Contacting soldiers' parents, Stephanie Hare said, is "classic psychological warfare." The communications could harden opposition to Ukraine, she said, if Russians see them as cruel. "If it were Russian soldiers doing this with Ukrainian mothers, " she said, "we might say, 'Oh, my God, that's barbaric.'" Others have warned about human rights abuses, and an expert at IPVM, a US research group, cautioned of misuse. The software isn't 100% accurate, Conor Healy said. "It shouldn't be a life-or-death technology where you either pass or fail, where you could get imprisoned or, god forbid, even killed," he said. "That's not how this should be used at all." (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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