June 13, 2024

Where Did The Blankets Go?


Where Did The Blankets Go?
A mailbox that reads "Postal Service of Russia." User:Gone Postal, Wikimedia Commons.

On June 6, Mediazona revealed that almost 200 tons of old blankets were sent via mail to only one man fighting in the war in Ukraine, representing 20 percent of all packages mailed to the front.

The story gets even more mysterious.

In December 2022, the Ministry of Defense announced that the Russian Post would expand its service to the front. Bundles are first sent to a Russian Post distribution center and then transferred to the Ministry of Defense for delivery. All packages under 10 kilograms (22 lbs) are transferred for free. Mediazona found through the postal service website's tracking services that over 188,000 items had been sent to the frontline between 2023 and early 2024.

In October 2023, messages circulated on social media asking people to send old blankets to one man, a medical lieutenant named Kyrill Gontarenko. One of these posts read: "a hospital near Artemovsky needs used blankets. It's getting cold and the wounded must be wrapped up during the evacuation to Lugansk and Rostov... We ask caring people to post an appeal in their groups. You can send it for free."

Mediazona found that the blanket senders were not just private individuals. Schools, kindergartens, veterans' councils, rehabilitation centers, post offices, social services centers, and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church all sent blankets to Gontarenko. Most packages originated in Moscow, Moscow Oblast, and St. Petersburg. One of every two parcels in Bashkorostan and every third from Kuban were addressed to Gontarenko. Chechnya, Ingushetia, and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast were the only regions that did not send blankets.

However, not all packages arrived at their destination. According to Mediazona, the location of many of the sent blankets is still unknown: could they have been lost en route, or did they end up with the mysterious Gontarenko? The independent publication was not able to contact Lieutenant Gontarenko. They tried to interview him via his social media accounts, which feature panda avatars or are named after the bear. Gontarenko has changed his hometown from Astrakhan to St. Petersburg on his profile. Mediazona could not reach him either through his friends or his wife.

With suspicion mounting, in November 2023, requests spread across social media asking people to stop sending blankets to Gontarenko.

The investigation is ongoing.

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