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War in Ukraine. Convicts from the Wagner Group talk about their experiences at the front

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Two former mercenaries of the Wagner Group’s private military firm have told CNN reporters about their terrifying experiences on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine. They said, among other things, that the convicts were cannon fodder, and withdrawal was out of the question.

The mercenaries were captured by Ukrainian forces in late 2022. CNN does not reveal their identities for security reasons, and the interview with journalists was granted by Ukrainian intelligence. Both men are married with children and were recruited into the Wagner Group while in prison. One of them was serving a 20-year sentence for manslaughter. Journalists emphasize that they warned the mercenaries that they could end the interview at any time, but they described their memories in detail for over an hour.

60 out of 90 died

– There were 90 of us. Sixty were killed in the first attack, killed by mortar fire. Several were injured, said one of the mercenaries who recalled being involved in an attack near the village of Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region. – If one group fails, another one is sent immediately. If that fails, they send another one.

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The second man was involved in a five-day assault through a forest near Lisichansk in the Luhansk region. – The first steps in the forest were difficult due to the mines scattered around. Out of ten, seven died instantly, he said. He also pointed out that there was no way to help the wounded due to the Ukrainian counterattack. “Even if their wounds were minor, it was necessary to keep going, otherwise there was a risk of being caught by artillery fire,” he said.

– You go on for five days, people die right next to you, praying to God and begging for water. You think you can put the gun down and then nothing else happens, but then, ten minutes later, the fight starts all over again. “Four hundred (mercenaries) were brought there, and then more and more, all the time,” he said.

The casualties, according to the mercenaries, multiplied. “When the casualties arrive, you’re ordered to load them up and you don’t really think about who’s dead and who’s injured,” one source said.

They both agreed that they were driven by one instinct. “It was just about surviving.” I just wanted to survive, no matter what the cost,” emphasized one of the mercenaries who took part in the storming through the forest.

Graves of mercenaries of the Russian Wagner group in a cemetery near the village of Bakinskaya in the Krasnodar region of RussiaReuters/Forums

A killer choice

According to the men’s accounts, the alternative to crossing minefields towards the Ukrainian artillery was just as deadly. “We couldn’t withdraw without an order because we knew we’d be killed if we didn’t comply,” one of the men explained.

– One stayed in position, he was very scared because it was his first attack. We were ordered to run forward, but he hid under a tree, refused. It was reported to the command and that was it. He was taken fifty meters from the base. There he dug his own grave, and then he was shot,” he recalled.

Another interviewee reported a similar situation. – Our commander was told that if anyone chickened out, they would have to be eliminated. And if we fail to eliminate him, we will be eliminated for not eliminating him.

A promise of freedom

Both men also described how they were recruited into the Wagner Group. Recruitment began in July 2022 when the head of the group Yevgeny Prigozhin began appearing in prisons with a proposition to convicts: they could repay their debt to society by joining its private army on a six-month contract, in exchange for a pardon.

One of the men still faced a decade behind bars. “I reckoned six months would be better than ten or eleven years I could have spent in prison.” I wanted to start my life over again, he argued.

According to a CNN source, the selection process was so simple that older prisoners only had to demonstrate that they could walk a few meters. “They took almost everyone,” he remarked.

Both reported that soon after Prigozhin’s visits, hundreds of prisoners were transported by buses and planes to a training ground in Russia’s Rostov region. There, they said, there was a strict ban on drugs and alcohol. They added that they had also heard some of the commanders mention that they had fought in the ranks of the Wagner Group in Africa and Syria.

As they went on, the training was short and covered basic issues, such as the use of weapons. The men said it was clear they were being prepared for a mission they had not signed up for.

Now, as CNN writes, “they are bitter about the fraud contained in Prigozhin’s offer.” “He didn’t say anything about danger,” one of them complained. – All convictions were to be canceled, there was to be an advance payment of 240,000 rubles, it was said that our task would be to maintain the second line – he listed.

“I don’t think it was worth it.” They want to go home

When asked if they would make the same decision again, the mercenaries fell silent for a moment. – I think it was a bad choice … I have never participated in any military operation, especially against the armed forces Ukrainewhose soldiers refuse to give up their territories. They brought us here under false pretenses, one of them declared.

The second prisoner agreed with the previous speaker. – I don’t think it was worth it. Now I hope to start a new chapter in my life. He added that he managed to reach his family. “Until I contacted them, they thought I was dead. They cried and were surprised that I was alive.

Both men have confirmed that they want to return to Russia. “I don’t care about Russia, I just want to go home,” said one of them.

Thursday Prigozhin declared that the recruitment of prisoners was overbut did not provide reasons for this decision. On some Russian Telegram channels there were reports that the Wagner Group suffered heavy losses in fighting near the Ukrainian Donbas and may be incorporated into the Russian army. Ukrainian services estimate that it sent nearly 50,000 convicts to the front.

Under the Russian constitution, only the president can grant pardons, and the Kremlin has not published such decrees as of 2020. According to official information in 2021 Vladimir Putin only six people were pardoned.

Main photo source: 2023 Cable News Network All Right Reserved

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