Russian POWs Recount Ukraine Offensive: Inside the World of Mercenaries and Convicts
The Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary army, has been accused of using former convicts freed from prison in “human-wave attacks” during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Recent investigations have led to more speculation in this regard. Reuters news agency used facial recognition software and cross-checked images with social media and Russian court documents to identify more than 30 former convicts who joined the Wagner Group. This article provides an inside view of the convict army through interviews with some of the men. Here’s what they had to say:
Recruitment and Training of Convicts for the Wagner Group
Recruitment Under Prigozhin
Founder of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, toured Russia’s prison system in the summer of 2022 offering pardons to those who agreed to fight in Ukraine. Many prisoners spread the word, with some approaching Prigozhin directly for a chance to join.
Training for the Battlefields
According to the interviewees, combat training was short but intensive, and conducted by veterans of Russia’s special forces. This could include just two to three weeks of training, although for some with prior military experience, they were brought up to speed quicker. However, Ukrainian and Western officials say that Wagner is sending poorly prepared fighters to certain death in eastern Ukraine.
The Experience of Convicts on the Frontline
Battling in Eastern Ukraine
Several of the interviewees confirmed that they were deployed to Ukraine’s eastern Bakhmut region, the site of some of the most intense fighting in the conflict. One man described the “utter hell” of the battlefield, and injured fighters returning to Russia often end up being used as propaganda in videos.
A Second Chance at Life
Despite the hellish conditions many experienced, all interviewees have remained fiercely loyal to Prigozhin for his role in giving them a second chance at life. The Wagner Group is very selective in terms of who they accept, and the group risks capture if they are identified by Ukrainian forces, as many are listed as dead or as having deserted from the Russian army, which is fighting on the side of separatist rebels.
The Future of Convict Fighters in a Changing Russia
Uncertainties Following the Conflict
Many of the former convicts who joined the Wagner Group now face uncertain futures in a Russia that has been upended by the conflict with Ukraine. With backing from the Kremlin, the Wagner Group could provide security services in other conflict zones. However, with talks of a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine, their future is still unknown.
Investigations into Wagner Group’s Activities
Recent investigations have brought the activities of Wagner Group under scrutiny. If criminal charges are brought against Wagner Group, some of the former convicts could face additional punishment. However, several of the interviewees remain keen on continuing to work as mercenaries and are waiting for an opportunity to arise.
The use of former convicts who were promised pardons in exchange for participation in the war has raised many moral and ethical questions. The Wagner Group puts these men’s lives at risk in the battlefields, while providing them with another chance at life outside prison. As we wait to see the conclusion of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict, the fate of these ex-convict fighters hangs in the balance.
1. What is the Wagner Group?
The Wagner Group is a Russian mercenary army that is active in several conflict zones around the world, including eastern Ukraine and Syria.
2. How many former convicts joined the Wagner Group?
Recent investigations have identified over 30 ex-convicts who joined the Wagner Group in exchange for a chance to fight in the war in Ukraine.
3. What kind of training did the convicts receive?
The training the convicts received was short but intensive and conducted by veterans of Russia’s special forces.
4. What is the fate of the former convicts who joined the Wagner Group?
The future of the ex-convict fighters is uncertain as the Russia-Ukraine conflict remains in a state of flux. With backing from the Kremlin, the Wagner Group could find work elsewhere, but this is yet to be determined.
5. Will those who joined the Wagner Group face punishment for their involvement in the conflict?
Recent investigations into the group’s activities could lead to several members, including the former convicts, facing criminal charges.