Wagner Group’s Secret ‘Squadron’ of Executioners Accused of Killing Their Own Men in Ukraine
As convicted murderers and rapists quickly become Russia’s new “heroes” on the battlefield in Ukraine, captured members of the infamous Wagner gang say they have been squeezed for pay and witnessed front-line public executions.
“Those who do not obey are eliminated – and this is done publicly,” Yevgeny Novikov, a former prisoner recruited by Wagner, told Polygon Media and independent newspaper Mozhem Obyasnit in a new report on Tuesday. Citing taped interviews that Wagner’s former fighters gave to Ukrainian authorities, the publications said they independently verified the men’s identities.
The men’s accounts come as pro-Kremlin military bloggers praise the mercenary group for a major attack on the Ukrainian town of Soledar in the Donetsk region, where British intelligence says Russia now controls a large swath of territory.
“It is the ‘musicians’ who are liberating these cities,” wrote a popular pro-war Telegram channel, using a popular nickname for Wagner. “The result speaks for itself and you just have to give them their due.”
Former prisoners say the reality is not so heroic.
“There are squadrons of liquidators consisting of [members of assault teams]. … The shelling began, one of the prisoners lay down and did not cover his [men]. The shelling stopped, he turned and shouted at him above, “Why didn’t you go forward?” And they killed him. The highest is killed if his team deserts,” Novikov was quoted as saying.
Another former inmate, identified as Alexander Drozdov, who was serving a sentence for attempted murder, said most of the inmates in Wagner’s ranks are “completely insane” inmates released from long sentences for drug offenses .
They “are very different from ordinary mercenaries, they are just dirty and bulldozed,” Drozdov said.
According to him, the mercenary group makes clear distinctions between prisoners and professional mercenaries, making both groups wear separate uniforms, while those with HIV have their own ‘distinguishing’ marks – a red armband.
While Wagner’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has called the prisoners-turned-mercenaries “patriots” and “heroes,” one inmate said the group made it clear to the prisoners that they were prohibited from joining the private army.
“You are not Wagner, you are a project, don’t even call yourself that [Wagner]. Because you are just a project”, prisoner Sergei Vershchagin is quoted as saying.
Vereshchagin said he was recruited and sent to fight in Soledar after Wagner recruited him while serving time for a double murder.
“They didn’t pay me any money,” he told Mozhem Obyasni.
The mad scheme to pump up the Russian war machine using prisoners deemed “disposable” has resulted in huge losses among released prisoners, with Insider citing public records in early November to report more than 500 dead in just two months. But perhaps this is exactly what the Kremlin is supporting.
Ukrainian intelligence said in September that they believe Russia will “eliminate all captured mercenaries in one way or another” once their battlefield stints are over. Prigozhin has already made a show of turning away the first groups of prisoners to complete their contracts with Wagner, although many said they intended to sign up for another round.
Drozdov, the prisoner, said the deaths in the ranks of Wagner’s assault teams were “absolutely gigantic.”
While the Kremlin has largely played mute about Wagner’s activities in Ukraine, it appears the Russian leader was on board with Prigozhin’s prison recruitment scheme all along: Members of the first batch of prisoners recruited to fight were released from prison before they ever set foot. on the battlefield, thanks to a “secret” decree from Vladimir Putin, Eva Merkacheva, a member of the Human Rights Council of Russia, told RIA Novosti on Monday.
The group is now apparently looking for new recruits as they seek reinforcements to help Russia take the Ukrainian stronghold of Bakhmut.
Olga Romanova, head of the human rights group Russia Behind Bars, said this week that Wagner has launched recruitment efforts in prisons in Chechnya, according to local media.
“Until last week, we would say that Wagner is everywhere except Chechnya.” They bypassed Chechnya. Now Wagner is everywhere, including Chechnya. They made a deal with [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov”, said Romanova.
She said the new recruitment drive came after a long hiatus prompted by prisoners fleeing the front line and returning to Ukrainian authorities. As the number of defectors began to skyrocket, a Telegram channel linked to Wagner released video footage of the brutal execution by hanging of ex-prisoner Yevgeny Nuzhin, who turned against the group after being captured by Ukraine.
Since then, according to Romanova, potential recruits are shown videos of other executions so they know how the group deals with “traitors”.
The group appears to be using the same tactics to recruit ordinary Russians elsewhere. Some residents of St.
A 23-year-old man identified only as Artyom told the publication that he received a call from someone who said he represented Wagner and told him “we have a holy war against fascists and fags.”
After Artyom made it clear that he was not interested, the man reportedly became disappointed, saying: “The Wagner Center in St. Petersburg is located at Zolnaya Street 15. If you want to reward your homeland or help in some way, come – we we will not harm you.”
“No one is threatening you, but remember we live in the same town.”