Visitors wearing military camouflage stand at the entrance of the ‘PMC Wagner Centre’, which is associated with businessman and founder of the Wagner private military group Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block during National Unity Day, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.Associated Press
A man trained by Russia’s Wagner Group said he didn’t expect to survive his first mission, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The man told the outlet he was a prisoner with convictions for murder and robbery.
The Wagner Group earlier this month said it ended the practice of recruiting prisoners.
A 48-year-old Russian inmate turned soldier told The Wall Street Journal that the Wagner Group only gave him three weeks of training and didn’t expect him to survive his first mission.
The unidentified man, who was captured by Ukrainian soldiers in March, told the Journal he was only trained in one skill — how to crawl in a forest, which indicated to him that he was not expected to survive for very long on the battlefield.
The Wagner Group, a powerful Russian paramilitary group, caused global controversy for offering convicted prisoners in Russia freedom for fighting against Ukraine. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the group and a longtime ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, confirmed earlier this month in a Telegram statement that the organization has since stopped recruiting prisoners after fewer continued signing up to participate.
The man, who the outlet reported had convictions for robbery, drug offenses, and murder, said on January 29, two squads of six convicts were ordered to assault a Ukrainian outpost in Bakhmut, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The city of Bakhmut in Eastern Ukraine has been the site of some of the most deadly fighting in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. A retired US Marine estimated that the average life expectancy of a soldier on the front lines in eastern Ukraine is around four hours.
Only four of the men were “combat fit” by the end of the night while the rest were dead or injured, the outlet reported. The man was given permission to pull back the following morning due to injuries to his arm, he told the Journal.
“Two machine guns were blazing at us, people were being torn to bits, but they kept telling us: keep crawling ahead and dig in. It was just plain dumb,” the man told the outlet.
The man said that soldiers who were injured still had to be allowed by superiors to withdraw, according to the Journal.
“If you don’t push ahead and do what you’re told, you simply get nullified,” he said, according to the outlet. “Everyone knows that.”
“Nullified” is a Wagner term for being executed on the spot, the Journal reported.
A doctor declared the man fit t serve again, and he was sent back to the front lines in Bakhmut where he saw hundreds of dead Wagner troops, he said, according to the outlet.
“We would just stack up all the corpses in one place and leave them there, there was no time to deal with them,” he said.
The man said Wagner did not provide his detail with food, so the troops had to scavenge for their meals, and he was captured by Ukrainian forces after he stumbled into an outpost while lost, the Journal reported.