“We share your pain,” Russian President Vladimir Putin has told a group of mothers of Russian soldiers who have been fighting – and some of whom have been killed – in Ukraine.
“Nothing can replace the loss of a son”, he said in his opening remarks, shown on Russian state media.
Several of the mothers are members of pro-Kremlin movements. Critics say they were carefully chosen for the meeting.
Within Russia, opposition to his invasion of Ukraine has been growing.
Across the country, groups of mothers of serving soldiers have been openly complaining that their sons are being sent into battle poorly trained and without adequate weapons and clothing, especially as the bitterly cold winter sets in.
Some have also accused the Russian military of turning those forcefully deployed into “cannon fodder”, following a string of heavy military defeats in recent months.
Around 100,000 Russian and 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or injured since the war began on 24 February, according to the most senior US general, Mark Milley.
In a rare admission, the Kremlin said in September that mistakes had been made in its drive to mobilise army reservists.
At Friday’s meeting at his state residence near Moscow, Mr Putin was shown sitting at a large table with a group of 17 mothers. Some of them wore dark headscarves – a symbol of mourning.
“I want you to know that I personally, and all the leadership of the country, we share this pain,” the president said.
He told one mother her son had “achieved his goal” and “didn’t die in vain”.
Mr Putin said he wanted to meet the mothers face-to-face to hear from them first-hand about the situation on the ground.