Captured Wagner militant tells Ukrainska Pravda about recruitment and fighting in Ukraine

21 DECEMBER 2022

The Wagner Group, the infamous Russian private military company, is recruiting inmates from penal colonies, promising them amnesty after six months of fighting in the war, as well as money and a chance to get back to normal life afterwards. They recruit convicts by telling fairy tales about fighting mercenaries from the US and Poland and insisting that Ukraine no longer exists, when in fact they are sending the new recruits to a meat grinder where former convicts are being slaughtered en masse. 

Source:  Ukrainska Pravda’s interview with S., a 32-year-old Wagner militant who was taken captive by the Armed Forces of Ukraine in November near the city of Bakhmut

Note: S. is not a soldier and has never served in the army. He was recruited at the end of August by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, in a Russian penitentiary institution where S. had so far served eight years of a sentence for murder. 

Wagner has recruited 1,300 convicts in total. They offer them a six-month contract with a salary of 600,000 roubles [approximately US$8,500], plus an amnesty after the war. S. agreed to these terms. 

In early September, a group of almost 200 people was flown to Rostov Oblast (Russia), where they signed contracts and completed a 10-day training course. They were taught how to conduct assault operations, to move through forests, and to hide and shoot. Then they were sent to the occupied territory of Luhansk Oblast. In early November, the occupiers had to attack a gas station behind the forest. In total, there were 400 people. 

Quote from the “Wagnerite”: “There was a concrete road. We were told there was a forest behind it. Our ‘dozen’ moved out and crossed the road. When we approached the forest, they told us to spread out in a line. They said there was a gas station on the top of a hill, and that we needed to go there and capture it. We had RPGs, a machine gun and grenades; I had a rifle. We spread out in a line and started entering the forest. And that was it… Projectiles started flying at us: tanks, artillery [opened fire]. Some became Cargo 300 [a military code for the injured – ed.], some had their arms, legs or heads ripped off. Screams, noise…

[The Wagnerite’s ‘dozen’ were killed; he waited for another one and came under fire with them too – ed.]

I was hit in the neck and back. There were pieces of shrapnel, and I got a concussion. Four of us were seriously wounded, they were left lying there in the forest. One was killed instantly; another one walked with me, but his knee was wounded and he stopped because he couldn’t go on. I went to get help alone and came across Ukrainian soldiers.”

Details: The occupier said that when he saw everything with his own eyes, his attitude towards the war changed: if he could go back, he would have stayed in prison. He thinks back to the Wagner militants who were killed and maimed and says that in that situation, they didn’t care about money or amnesty. 

S. said he has relatives in Russia, so he hopes to be included in some prisoner swap. But he does not know what to expect there, because he remembers the leadership’s orders to blow yourself up with a grenade rather than surrender.

The story of Yevgeny Nuzhin, the captive Wagner soldier who was killed by having his head smashed in with a sledgehammer should serve as a reminder of what could happen to those who surrender. 

Andrey Medvedev, Nuzhin’s former commander at the Wagner Group, told Russian news outlet The Insider that he was aware of ten similar “executions”. According to Medvedev, Wagner has a special unit of the “security service” that deals with these murders. 


  • According to Vazhnyie Istorii (Important Stories), which is keeping count of all recruits to the Wagner Group, at least 5,786 convicts may have been sent to fight in Ukraine as of 19 September. 
  • Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence told Ukrainska Pravda that the number of Wagner soldiers involved in the war against Ukraine is currently 25,000. Before they started recruiting convicts, it was approximately 5,000.


  1. “S. said he has relatives in Russia, so he hopes to be included in some prisoner swap. But he does not know what to expect there, because he remembers the leadership’s orders to blow yourself up with a grenade rather than surrender.”

    He should be shown the video in which Mr. Nuzhin got his skull shattered with a sledgehammer. That’ll give him food for thought about going back to mafia land.

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