NewsRussian prisoners face grim fate in Ukraine war with Wagner Group

Russian prisoners face grim fate in Ukraine war with Wagner Group

Every third prisoner from the Wagner Group did not return. Families received billions.
Every third prisoner from the Wagner Group did not return. Families received billions.
Images source: © Getty Images | 2023 Anadolu Agency

7:49 PM EDT, June 10, 2024

At least 48,000 prisoners from Russian colonies have been recruited to fight in the war in Ukraine by the Wagner Group. Journalists have determined that one in three prisoners did not return from the war. Families were paid nearly 1.2 billion USD in compensation.

The recruitment of prisoners for military service as part of the Wagner Group carried out in penal colonies, was described by its leadership, including the then-leader of the formation, Yevgeny Prigozhin, as "Project 42174" or "Project K." Inmates were offered the chance to regain their freedom and receive a pardon after six months of service at the front. Additionally, it was assured that in the event of death on the battlefield, their families would receive significant compensation.

The Wagner Group's first prisoner recruitment took place on July 1, 2022, in one of the penal colonies in the Leningrad region. According to information provided by journalists who analyzed internal Wagner Group documents, the last such case was recorded on February 7, 2023, in the Kemerovo region in Siberia.

Thanks to the journalistic investigation, it was possible to identify 341 out of 501 camps where prisoners recruited to the front were serving their sentences. Of these 341, as many as 227 are penal colonies with maximum security, and 28 are prisons with special status intended for hazardous criminals, including those sentenced to life imprisonment, according to data revealed by BBC and Mediazona.

"Bakhmut meat grinders"

The authorities of the Wagner Group did not hide the fact that prisoners sent to the front under Bakhmut were condemned to death. The battle for this city was called the "Bakhmut slaughterhouse." During it, a total of more than 19,500 Wagner Group soldiers died, of which nearly 17,200 were conscripts from penal colonies, according to a Monday report.

According to Prigozhin, the goal of the "Bakhmut meat grinders" was to kill more Ukrainian soldiers. He claimed that 50,000 soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces died near Bakhmut, and another 50,000–70,000 were wounded. The Ukrainian project UALosses, which counts the casualties of the Ukrainian Armed Forces based on publicly available obituaries, confirms only 8,900 Ukrainian soldiers who died near Bakhmut.

Prigozhin admitted the actual number of Wagner PMC losses near Bakhmut—about 20,000 people—but lied about the number of dead prisoners. "During the operation, I selected 50,000 prisoners, of whom about 20 percent died. The same number died as those who came to us under contract," said the founder of PMC in an interview with V-blogger Konstantin Dolgov in May 2023.

"Most of the Wagnerites died in the 'Bakhmut meat grinder' – more than 19,500 people," reports Mediazona.

The report states that the Wagner Group paid families of fallen prisoners compensation totaling nearly 1.2 billion USD. Each family was to receive 55,000 USD and an additional 3,300 USD for funeral arrangements.

The battle for Bakhmut

The Battle for Bakhmut was one of the longest and bloodiest confrontations during Russia's war against Ukraine. The fights lasted from August 2022 to the second half of May 2023, when Prigozhin announced that his units had captured the city.

Information about recruiting Russian prisoners for military service and sending them to war has been appearing since 2022, almost from the beginning of the Kremlin's open invasion of Ukraine. Reports from the Russian editorial offices of BBC and Mediazona align with previous estimates from Western analysts, who estimated the number of prisoners recruited to the front at a minimum of several tens of thousands.

Related content