Prisoners recruited by the Russian Wagner Group to fight in Ukraine increasingly seem to realize that they have been duped and that no one ever expected to bring them back alive.
A detainee recruited by the group in November ran away from his team in Ukraine’s Luhansk region and fled to Russia by bus and via a ride-sharing app, where he says he is now hiding for fear of the revenge.
“We thought we’d be equal to the hired fighters, that we wouldn’t be different, but really they just do assault teams with the inmates, and that’s the meat [in the meat grinder]. But there is already no turning back, if you refuse to do something, they will abandon you immediately,” Nikolai Troshkin told independent media outlet MediaZona on Wednesday.
Troshkin said he had a few years left to serve in a penal colony in Siberia when Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin visited in the fall and ‘colorfully’ briefed prisoners on their chance to grace.
He adhered to Prigozhin’s pledges, he said, and was soon transported along with nearly 200 other inmates from his colony.
“We signed a document indicating who to inform in the event of death, and [stating] that I agree to participate in the military operation and fulfill the tasks of the Ministry of Defense, despite the fact that I may die,” he said.
After being sent to the occupied Lugansk region for training, Troshkin said, he learned of demonstrative executions at a children’s camp.
“Two guys standing at a checkpoint stole something and they were immediately offended. The instructor said one of them got down on his knees and asked for forgiveness, but he died with dignity saying, ‘Don’t repeat my mistakes’, he said, adding that ‘they shoot theirs there’.
According to Troshkin, Wagner executives also sent released inmates on suicide missions knowing full well that they would never come back alive.
“It’s just deep shit, to put it bluntly,” he said. “They take thousands of [the penal colonies]tell them it’s okay and you’ll go home, and 90% will die.
Troshkin told the outlet that he fled the group after their training camp came under fire from Ukrainian forces. After ditching his military gear and changing into civilian clothes, he said, he took a bus from Donetsk to Moscow and eventually used a ride-sharing service to return to Siberia.
He said he had originally planned to return to prison – “There’s no point messing with Wagner” – but then learned he wasn’t even wanted by the authorities.
“What’s the point of going back to prison? I am already released, I am forgiven. But because of Wagner, I’m going to have to hide and change my phone,” he said.
Troshkin’s account comes as a former Wagner commander has begun testifying before Norwegian war crimes investigators as he seeks political asylum in that country.
Andrei Medvedev, 26, spent four months with the group before defecting and crossing the Russian border into Norway last month.
He echoed Troshkin’s claims and said Wagner’s fighters are “treated like cattle” sent to slaughter.
“There was a time when they brought in two prisoners who refused to fight and shot them in front of the others for refusing to follow orders,” Medvedev said. Moscow time. “There have been many such incidents.”
As war veterans express disillusionment with the group, Wagner has also reportedly been snubbed by the Russian Defense Ministry when it comes to bringing the war dead home.
“They are not friends with the Ministry of Defense, they do not help them [Wagner] with coffins. Officially, they are not considered military, so they cannot use the ministry’s infrastructure, they have to make do with corpses in the market,” a Russian funeral industry source told independent media outlet Verstka on Wednesday. .
In several cases, according to another source, families of dead Wagner fighters were given empty coffins to bury.