Brutal footage released by Ukraine purportedly shows Wagner Group fighters beating their commander with shovels in the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where the paramilitary group has focused its efforts for half a year.
The video, shot from a Ukrainian drone by the Seneka special platoon earlier this week, was released on Ukrainian social media channels on Monday. It appears to show four Wagner Group fighters dragging their commander through the war-torn region, holding him by his arms and legs.
Three of the men are seen in another portion of the clip hitting him with what appears to be either shovels or sledgehammers.
The Wagner Group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has hired tens of thousands of Russian convicts to participate in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, promising them commuted sentences and cash incentives.
The ‘PMC Wagner Centre’
His fighters have been leading conventional Russian troops in Bakhmut for months, but they are slowly being replaced as the Wagner Group fails to make significant advances in the region.
Olga Romanova, the head of Russia Behind Bars, a charity advocating prisoners’ rights, said in late January that out of the 50,000 convicts recruited by the Wagner Group, 40,000 are either dead or missing, and only 10,000 are still fighting in Ukraine.
Russian lawyer Yana Gelmel told independent Russian news outlet Agentstvo in a report published on Wednesday that far fewer convicts are voluntarily agreeing to join the Wagner Group compared to the summer and autumn months of 2022 because convicts are learning about the high fatality rate in the war.
The independent Latvia-based Russian outlet Mediazona separately reported on Monday that the Wagner Group is short of manpower after the battles for Bakhmut and the nearby salt-mining town of Soledar. It said Prigozhin is struggling to find new hires from Russia’s prisons.
An element of Prigozhin’s struggle to recruit new convicts for Putin’s war could be the treatment of soldiers who agree to fight.
The Wagner Group made headlines in November after the execution of Yevgeny Nuzhin, a 55-year-old former Russian convict who was recruited in July. He gave a string of interviews after he was captured by Ukrainian forces in September, in which he criticized Russian officials and said he wanted to switch sides.
Footage of his killing was published by the Wagner-linked Telegram channel Grey Zone. It showed an unidentified man hitting Nuzhin with a sledgehammer.
Prigozhin said the footage was “excellent directorial work that’s watchable in one sitting.”
Vladimir Osechkin, a Russian human rights activist and the head of the gulagu.net anti-corruption project, a prisoners’ rights group, previously told Newsweek that executions and torture are common practices within the Wagner Group and that many have been killed for refusing to participate in the war.
“Russian instructors and commanders of the Wagner Group have killed prisoners who entered the war but refused to participate. In the last three to four months, there have been systematical kills and torture against people who refuse the group’s command,”Osechkin said.
“For example, if a new party of 200 to 400 prisoners entered a training center in Ukraine, the Wagner Group then creates a big meeting of ex-prisoners. After that, there is a transfer, and they kill some ex-prisoners—not from this new group, but from the group who recently have entered a rift.”
“For example, some people from this party—if they refused to participate in the war after they saw what was happening in reality, and if they do not want to participate and say they want to go back and return to prison—they take some of these people, and the instructors and commanders in the Wagner Group kill them,” he said.
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