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A 19-Year-Old Russian's Parents Don't Buy The Story Of How He Died In Syria

The Russian government says Vadim Kostenko killed himself on a Russian airbase in Syria. His family isn't so sure.

Posted on October 28, 2015, at 2:08 p.m. ET

Vadim Kostenko was confirmed Tuesday as the first Russian citizen to die during the monthlong bombardment campaign Russia has undertaken in Syria.

Vadim Kostenko / VK

Interfax news agency identified Kostenko — a 19-year-old from Russia's Krasnodar Region — as a "contract serviceman," or a soldier who had volunteered to continue service after his draft term had ended, who worked at Russia's Syrian airbase as a technician.

The country's Defense Ministry attributed the soldier's death to suicide prompted by relationship issues, according to the state-owned Russia-24's website, citing text messages with his girlfriend.

Reuters Staff / Reuters

But his parents and neighbors are questioning the narrative presented, according to Novya Gazeta. That's backed up by the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), the group that first flagged Kostenko's death after spotting it on Russian social media.

ruslanleviev.livejournal.com

Russian officials reportedly informed Kostenko's parents that their son had died on Oct. 24, saying that he had hung himself. A story published in the Wall Street Journal the previous day, however, quoted an unnamed defense official as saying that "one Russian soldier has died in Syria due to careless handling of weaponry."

The soldier mentioned in the WSJ story has not been identified, leading the CIT — which has previously tracked Russian soldiers' deaths in Ukraine via social media — to question the story the Russian government is providing.

"I will never believe this version (suicide)," Kostenko's mother, Svetlana, told Reuters. "We spoke every day by phone for half an hour. (On Saturday) he was cheerful, happy, and he laughed."

Stringer Russia / Reuters

"We were told he had hanged himself because of a girl," his father, Alexander, added. "He would never have done it. I know my son really well."

Prior to Kostenko's funeral on Wednesday, his younger sister told Reuters that his body "appeared undamaged and it was unclear if he was strangled or had hanged himself."

Soldiers carry the open coffin of Vadim Kostenko into the cemetery of Grechanaya Balka

Kostenko was buried on Wednesday in a cemetery in his hometown of Grechanaya Balka.

Soldiers carrying out the coffin of Vadim Kostenko

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.