Russia's Military Is Recruiting Female Prisoners for Ukraine War: Kyiv

Russia’s Military Is Recruiting Female Prisoners for Ukraine War: Kyiv

A top Ukrainian official said Russia has been actively recruiting women from penal colonies to fight in its war with Ukraine.

Andriy Yusov, spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence service (GUR), told the Kyiv Post in a story published on Friday that Moscow’s forces have been using the female convicts for active battlefield duty.

“We are not only talking about auxiliary units, but combat units as well, if needed,” Yusov said.

Newsweek could not independently verify the claims made by Yusov, and the Russian Ministry of Defense was contacted on Friday night via email for comment.

A destroyed Russian tank is pictured in Svitohirsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on April 6. Ukraine has accused Russia of recruiting female prisoners to fight in the war.

Photo by Wojciech Grzedzinski/Anadolu via Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military has suffered severe casualties in Ukraine, with Kyiv reporting Moscow has lost more than 450,000 troops since the invasion was launched in February 2022. Reports have long suggested Russia has struggled to refill its ranks from these losses, and the practice of using prison inmates has been one solution.

In December, Russian dissident-in-exile Vladimir Osechkin—head of a prisoners’ rights groups called—told Newsweek his research showed Russia has recruited over 100,000 convicts from penal colonies to fight in Ukraine since the start of the war.

After Russian media reported the Kremlin was commuting prison sentences for convicts who fought in Ukraine, a public backlash began in Russia. Eventually, the Kremlin was compelled to defend the program.

“They [prisoners] atone with blood for crimes on the battlefield, in assault brigades, under bullets, under shells,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on November 10.

Kyiv has previously accused Russia of sending female prisoners to war. In March 2023, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reported on the alleged existence of a train that brought “female convicts” to Russian forces in the country’s Donetsk region. Russia Behind Bars, an independent Russian prisons watchdog group, backed Ukraine’s allegations.

“Against the background of large losses of personnel in the war, the enemy uses alternative sources of replenishment of manpower,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry posted on Telegram at the time. “Last week, the movement of a train with first-class carriages for the transportation of prisoners was noted towards the Donetsk region. One of the cars contained female prisoners.”

The role of those alleged female prisoner recruits is not known, but Yusov now accuses Russia of using female convicts on the battlefield. He also told the Kyiv Post that few of these troops ever return home alive.

“Most of the women prisoners recruited by Russia have been killed or returned with serious injuries,” Yusov said.

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