Russian prisoners say Defense Ministry is sending them out of prison to fight as ‘cannon fodder’ in Ukraine


(CNN) The voice may be distorted, but the emotion is unmistakable.

“I am about to be shot. I have.”

This is the last message sent by Viktor Sevalnev. A prisoner serving time in prison for armed robbery and assault, he was sent from prison to fight for Russia in Ukraine.after most of his colleagues were killed in an attack on an outdoor factory Soledarit was an act of survival that turned out to be fatal for Sevarnev.

In his final message to his wife, he said he feared that Russian Defense Ministry officials would soon remove him from his hospital bed, record a voice message there, and execute him. A few days later, the body was returned to his wife in Moscow in a closed coffin.

Sevarnev’s callous fate adds to the growing list of abuse complaints from inmates CNN spoke to.For months Russia has been using shadowy Private Mercenary Company Wagner Strengthen frontline presence with prisoners — originally the plan negative and secretivebut was then openly promoted by Wagner’s owner Evgeny Prigozhin.

On Thursday, Prigozhin announced that Wagner had stopped recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine, saying “those who are now working for us are doing all their duty”. not shown and CNN cannot independently verify the claims.

But Sevalnev and several prisoners whom CNN spoke to appear to point to a disturbing new strategy.

A Ukrainian intelligence official confirmed to CNN that a prisoner recently captured by the Ukrainian military said he was employed directly by the ministry.

“They stressed that they were officially invited by the Ministry of Defense, not by Wagner,” Andriy Usov, a defense intelligence officer at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, told CNN.

Usov said the deployment had “echoes of infighting among the Russian military leadership” and was directly controlled through them by the Russian Defense Hierarchy, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the new head of the Ukrainian operations, Valery Gerasimov. He said he was creating a prisoner resource that could. Provincial private enterprise. Usov said the ministry’s inmate population is down for now, but “will be used like cannon fodder” as Wagner did.

Vladimir Osekkin of the prisoner’s rights group said the Ministry of Defense used “more favorable terms” to recruit recruits and prisoners to check the growing influence of its owner, Mr. Prigozhin. He said he seemed to be luring him out of Mr. Wagner. part of the army.

“Many people in Moscow are really afraid of Prigozhin,” said Osekkin. “They understand that he commands a huge gang.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

CNN spoke to several prisoners who worked for the unit known by the number “08807.” They all say they were directly employed by the Russian Ministry of Defense. Others held documents indicating their eventual deployment to part of the Luhansk separatist forces belonging to the Russian Ministry of Defense. Unit 08807 he deployed to the front line around Soledar, known as the ‘Sturm’ brigade, in October and raided the Ukrainian front, inflicting devastating casualties.

Sevarnev is buried in a cemetery outside Moscow. His wife was told by Russian separatist officials that she had died of shrapnel injuries.

Grainy footage obtained by shows Sevarnev and his unit dancing in a camp inside Luhansk to celebrate the pre-deployment. Survivors also reported seeing them eating and joking right behind the front lines the night before they launched their attack on a key Soledar factory.

Prisoners spoke of casual mistreatment both on and off the battlefield, but Sevarnev’s fate stood out. , his sudden death was apparently due to shrapnel damage.

Sevarnev’s wife declined to be interviewed for this report, but his audio message and images of him during the war were provided to CNN by, according to Russian court documents obtained by CNN. Sevarnev was convicted of theft and, according to his sentence, should have been in prison when he died. His grave is outside Moscow and the month of his death is recorded as November 2022.

Three other survivors from the unit spoke to CNN from the hospital. One of the prisoners also said that Sevarnev was wounded once, but he was sent back to fight on the front lines, where he was wounded again.

The Severnev case and several prisoners told by CNN appear to suggest a disturbing new strategy used by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

“No one has had surgery here, no one has had surgery,” he said. CNN has withheld the names of him and the other surviving inmates for their safety. “People walk around [the hospital] He has bullet wounds and a shrapnel lodged in his leg. ”

A former soldier before his imprisonment, he also described the devastating loss. “Our batch was 130 people, but we also had a lot of amputees and maybe 40 left,” he added, noting that many different groups of prisoners have been added to the unit over time. He said there were only 15 survivors in his unit and 08807 is now called 40321 or “Storm Unit”. “It’s basically a meat grinder,” he added. He told CNN over the past few days that he was sent back to the front line with his injuries not healing.

The second prisoner, a former Russian Civil War veteran, was initially overlooked when Wagner was drafted from prison but was hired by the Russian Ministry of Defense last year after serving a 10-year sentence on murder charges. said. He described himself as a “patriot” and complained that many of the prisoners sent to the front were “green.”

“I have no complaints. War is war. Some people come here and hear the machine guns and run away. I have prepared everyone in the country,” he said. This soldier explained how he felt no fear even though he was severely injured in his leg in October after he had fought for 25 days on the front lines. “In the trenches, he’s two to six meters away from me, the shells hit him, and the dirt falls into the trenches, but he doesn’t feel any fear. I don’t know why this happens.”

A third said he was serving time for manslaughter when he was directly recruited into the Ministry of Defense. He lamented that prisoners did not receive the kind of treatment and benefits that Wagner boasted lavishly providing to recruits. [Wagner recruits have also complained of being used as cannon fodder and poorly treated.] He described a battle in which half of his troops were casualties. “We were sent to the front lines. I radioed my men to aim slightly to the right as they were firing mortars at us. shot us from… us.”

The fate of the inmates hired by Wagner doesn’t look good. CNN report for August.

Tanzanian student Nemes Tarimo was murdered in Ukraine in October. His cousin, Rehema Makrene Kigoga, is looking at his photo on the phone.

According to his brother, one had been missing without a trace for four months. Another remained silent, sending his brother a sealed plastic bag of his monthly salary collected from his rented office. A third appeared in the video with his Prigozhin portrayed as a lucky returnee. But his friends spoke of his “zombie-like” appearance, heavy drinking and an urgent desire to return to the front lines.

The plan to send prisoners to war appears to have expanded rapidly, with figures obtained by CNN from the Russian criminal system showing that the prison population fell by 27,000 between March and November last year.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also elaborated on the legality of the pardons Wagner claimed would be granted to prisoners, telling reporters last month that the presidential decree pardoning prisoners is likely to be classified. “There are public statutes, and there are statutes with secrets of various classifications,” he said. “That’s why I can’t say anything about these orders. I can really confirm that the whole procedure for pardoning prisoners is strictly in accordance with Russian law.”

Wagner’s recruitment also traps non-Russian prisoners, who may not have been convicted of a crime. was arrested and remanded. He was sentenced to his seven-year prison sentence last March, according to the Tanzanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, citing information from the Russian side.

McLene Kigoga told CNN that Tarimo’s family knew nothing about his whereabouts until they were informed of his death.

His family in Tanzania told CNN they hadn’t heard anything about his fate until they were told by authorities that he had died.

Wagner released a gory video of Tarimo’s memorial service at a cemetery in Molkino, western Russia, saying he died near Bakhmut in October. His body was returned to Tanzania last month, state television said, and the foreign ministry said in a statement that Tarimo had accepted an offer to fight in exchange for money and his freedom.

His cousin Rehema Makrene Kigoga told CNN: She also said that nothing had been heard of his recruitment until after his death. He was reportedly arrested for a drug-related crime.It gives a lot of grief and grief as a family.Soldier.”

Sammy Awami, Josh Pennington, CNN’s Bethlehem Feleke, Victoria Butenko, and Alex Stambaugh contributed to this report.

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