By Jaroslav Lukiv
"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, before the footage on state TV was cut.
The Kremlin has not commented on reports that the mothers were carefully chosen for the meeting.
Opposition has been growing to Mr Putin's decision to invade Ukraine.
Across Russia, groups of mothers of serving soldiers been openly complaining that their sons are being sent into battle poorly trained and without adequate weapons and clothing, especially as the winter sets in.
Some have also accused the Russian military of turning those forcefully mobilised into "cannon fodder", following a string of heavy military defeats in recent months.
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.
"We'll be doing everything so you won't be feeling forgotten," he added, urging them not to believe "fakes" and "lies" about the raging war showing on TV or the internet.
The Russian leader said he had wanted to meet the mothers to hear from them first-hand about the situation on the ground.
And he revealed that from time to time he was speaking directly to Russian soldiers on the battlefield, describing them as "heroes".
In recent weeks mothers and wives of Russians drafted into the army have been posting collective video messages complaining about how their sons and husbands have been sent off to war untrained and ill-equipped. Some women have been appealing directly to President Putin, the commander-in-chief, to sort things out.
The "Putin meets mothers" event seems to be an attempt by the Kremlin to convince Russians that their president cares about the soldiers he's sending into battle, as well as their families.
"We understand nothing can replace the loss of a son, a child," Mr Putin said. "Especially for a mother, to whom we are all indebted for bringing this child into the world."
Considering the scale of death and destruction in Ukraine from Russia's invasion, these words are certain to infuriate Ukrainians.
Mr Putin tried to come across as a caring Kremlin leader. But keep in mind: it was his decision to invade Ukraine. The "special military operation" is his idea.
And in public at least he has no regrets.
He told one mother: "Some people die of vodka, and their lives go unnoticed. But your son really lived and achieved his goal. He didn't die in vain."
On Friday, President Putin declared that "life is more complicated than what they show on TV or even on the internet".
I'd agree with him, about television in Russia, which continues to portray the Kremlin's parallel reality of events in Ukraine.