The start of this year proved deadly for one unit of about 100 Russian fighters supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s troops in northern Syria.

On Feb. 3, 38-year-old Maxim Kolganov was killed in a firefight with rebels near Aleppo when a bullet pierced his body armor and heart. Then, on March 9, the same unit came under shell-fire near Palmyra, and Sergei Morozov, also 38, was hit and died on the way to hospital.

Back in southern Russia, medals were delivered to their families: the order of bravery, with certificates signed by President Vladimir Putin. The medals, seen by Reuters, were intended to honor the sacrifice they had made for their country. […]