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A Russian mother waits for news of her son

SHARE A Russian mother waits for news of her son

KURSK, Russia — At the moment when she heard that her son's submarine was trapped on the sea floor, Valentina Staroseltseva was preparing a package to send to 20-year-old Dmitry.

Just days before, she had received a letter from him full of excitement that he would soon put out to sea on the Kursk, one of Russia's most modern vessels.

She heard the grim news not from officials but from the television playing in her tiny apartment, which is decorated with pictures of her son.

"I sat down and have remained sitting here since," the 51-year-old Staroseltseva said Wednesday.

"I cannot bring myself to do anything, just sit and wait. My family is big and we are all very concerned," she said. Her face was drawn and she had bags under her eyes from fatigue.

Like hundreds of other relatives of the 116 men on the Kursk, Staroseltseva watches television around the clock for news of the struggling rescue operation.

Many relatives live in this small industrial city in central Russia, about 285 miles south of Moscow. The stricken boat bears the city's name and by tradition many of its crew are recruited from local high schools. The navy has not released a list of the sailors on board, but dozens are thought to come from Kursk.

The navy established a hotline for relatives, many of whom flew Wednesday to the submarine's base on the Arctic Ocean. They were quartered on a boat that will put to sea to greet the sailors — if any are rescued.

The submarine sank Saturday, according to navy sources, but the accident wasn't made known until Monday.

Staroseltseva's eyes never left the television screen as she sat on a threadbare couch and talked of her son.

A newscaster described how a rescue capsule slid off the sub's hull, failing to dock with a cargo hold in the rear of the Kursk, where the crew is thought to be trapped in darkness with limited oxygen.

Earlier, she showed visitors snapshots of Dmitry. In one picture, he wears a sailor's striped shirt, smiles broadly and holds a guitar while standing next to his best friend Alexei. His friend, who is also in the navy, is likely to be aboard the Kursk. In the background is a poster of a submarine.

Another picture shows Dmitry and his mother in thick coats and fur hats, smiling and posing by an ice-shrouded sea in Murmansk, the ship's base, during a family visit.

Staroseltseva was proud that her son was selected for the navy posting, not least because she thought the duty was far safer than the regular army.

"I mean, I always have been glad that he wasn't drafted to go to Chechnya," she said.

The North Fleet harkens back to Soviet pride in defending the motherland on vessels that were at the forefront of marine technology. The navy is now hampered by funding shortages and low morale but still sails some of the world's fastest, biggest and deepest-diving submarines.

"I still believe that everything will be all right," Staroseltseva said. "I haven't lost hope."