Ivan Kononov, a senior lieutenant in the Russian marines, loved to cook. He made Italian food for his unit in the field, his brother said, and traded rations for spices when he was serving in Syria.

Alexander Kononov, 32, last saw his brother at the military hospital morgue in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don in March. He had died in a firefight for a steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. He was 34. Walking to the morgue, Alexander Kononov recalled, he passed the open gate of a warehouse and glimpsed dozens of black body bags lined up on the floor.

It was only with his brother’s death, Kononov said in a phone interview, that he started paying attention to the war raging just over 80 kilometers from his home. And he realized, he said, that his brother had died in a war that "no one needs.”