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Confession

“Prigozhin says right away 80% will not be coming back”. How inmates are recruited into Wagner PMC to fight in Ukraine

Alyona Koroleva

The owner of Wagner PMC Evgeny Prigozhin has been personally recruiting prisoners in Russia's penal colonies, offering them release in six months for participation in hostilities in Ukraine, the convicts themselves told The Insider. According to them, Prigozhin does not hide the fact that Vladimir Putin personally sanctioned the recruitment of criminals for the war (whether true or not, but the FSIN has been fully assisting «Putin's chef» in interviewing inmates in penal colonies). Prigozhin (who back in the day served time for robbery and involvement of minors in criminal activities), wearing a Hero of Russia star on his T-shirt, tells prisoners that he «represents an organized crime group helping the Russian army» and promises convicts 100,000 to 230,000 rubles per month, giving preference to those convicted of murder.

ALL CARDS
  • “500 people wanted to sign up, only 100 were selected“

  • “The man with a Hero of Russia star on his T-shirt openly said: bandits are in power and they don't give a fuck“

  • “Preference was given to those who had already killed“

  • “He told us: We are an organized crime group that helps the Russian army“

  • “We live in Russia after all, I wanted to serve the country“

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The illustrations were created by the Midjourney neural network.

The title illustration is a response to the query «convicts go to fight in Ukraine.»

“500 people wanted to sign up, only 100 were selected“

Gennady, an inmate of a penal colony in the Bryansk region <the names hereinbelow have been changed - The Insider>

In late July Prigozhin and his people came to our colony. They were given six or seven rooms and two of them sat and talked to inmates. I didn't know who he was at the time. I saw that he was a normal guy. I went to talk to him, he was sitting in the first room, some young kid was with him. I had a personal conversation with him, but I only found out later who he was. I wish I didn't realize it right away. I should have asked him to help me.

Neural network generated picture: "Putin's chef meets cons"
Neural network generated picture: "Putin's chef meets cons"

There was no coercion. On the contrary: a lot of people don't get selected. They only accept people who are not afraid and who are adequate. They don't accept rapists or the ”lower caste.” They speak very politely, and I have no complaints against them. They asked me: ”Why do you want that?” and I said, ”I saw how Zelensky released those convicts who torture people. I'm going to go kill them. I'm not interested in Putin and Zelensky, war is war. And those who abuse women and children - I will bomb them.” They read my case file and said: ”If you pass a polygraph test, we will take you”.

After the interview I signed a paper saying I will not disclose the release process and voluntarily agree to participate in the military operation in Ukraine. We also wrote a petition for pardon.

They promised a contract, monthly payments (230,000 rubles a month), expungement of all criminal records after six months of participation in the special operation. But they tell you right away that nearly 80 of 100 won't be coming back. They enter your relatives' details and addresses into the computer, they ask you if you have a home or any bank loans. I think that the relatives will get some help because it's unlikely we will be coming back. I have a wife and a kid who is six years old, and that is my decision.

The guys understand there is nothing to expect upon release, it's hard to get a job. They don't want to steal or rob. But when you get out, you have nothing, no money to buy food with. Where can you get the money from? You need to rob someone again. These days cameras are everywhere - they will recognize you very quickly and send you back to prison. And so it's just back and forth, back and forth, a vicious circle. But now there's a way out: ”If I survive, I survive, there'll be a change in my life, and I'll also get some money”.

If I survive, I survive, there'll be a change in my life, and I'll also get some money

The Wagner PMC people don't tell you what's going on in Ukraine. But I know approximately, because I've been talking to prisoners from other colonies. For example, they took fifty people from St. Petersburg colony and threw them into some Ukrainian village, where there were more than three hundred Nazis. They slaughtered all those Nazis overnight, and only three of them were killed, and forty-seven came back.

The case files are all packed up. We are supposed to be taken to an airfield near the Ukrainian border soon. There we will change into ”green uniforms”, and they will be instructing us for two weeks. Then we'll take a helicopter across the border. Many people from my colony will go. Almost 500 people wanted to sign up, but only 240 were selected. Some were rejected after the polygraph. In the end, about 100 people will go to war.

Neural network generated picture: "Merderers are going to fight in Ukraine"
Neural network generated picture: "Merderers are going to fight in Ukraine"

I'm ready for not coming back. I mean, we're adults, we've been through fire and brass pipes. I don't think people from the PMC will cheat us. I am not going to war for political reasons. I have a goal in connection with the Nazis – I'm taking at least one or five or ten of them with me to the afterlife.

But if those who send us there start deceiving and lying, it's dangerous. I know that they've already rounded up a thousand and a half people from the camps in Arkhangelsk, Bryansk, Yaroslavl, Ryazan, Peter. I can get in touch with any camp or zone and find out whatever I need. We talk to each other and we'll rub them out ourselves if they attempt anything bad. Now we're just waiting, they can call any moment, and we will up and go. The only thing we're afraid of is that they won't take us there.

The only thing we're afraid of is that they won't take us there

There's so much hate in us that we're really afraid of not getting there and not doing our duty.

“The man with a Hero of Russia star on his T-shirt openly said: bandits are in power and they don't give a fuck“

Ivan, a correctional officer at a supermax colony in Tula region (IK-1)

On July 24 the Wagner PMC boss, Prigozhin himself, came to our colony. At the command of the head of the institution (he got a phone call from Zhitnaya Street) all the inmates lined up at the parade ground, and he started to speak about the war (that's how he called it), about the weakening of the regular army, which cannot cope, about cleansing one's sins by blood.

He promised a salary of 100,000 rubles and 100,000-ruble bonuses for the fulfillment of specific tasks. He talked about a pardon from Putin in six months. That if one is killed the relatives would be paid 5 million rubles. He said he had classified orders from the president to use all possible resources.

If one is killed the relatives would be paid 5 million rubles

Prigozhin said that for now he needs volunteers - the bravest and the most vigorous. He called his organization an organized crime group and talked a lot about the advantages of participating in the war through them. Honestly, I thought it was a surrealistic dream. A man, who had a Hero of Russia star pinned to his T-shirt, was telling us loud and clear about what was going on in our country. That bandits are really in power and they don't give a fuck about all kinds of human rights organizations like Gulagu.net or the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers. He told us about losses in combat operations: 10-15% will be killed and 15-20% wounded. He said they did not need cannon fodder, but needed fighters who would fight.

Neural network generated picture: "Putin looks for soldiers in prisons"
Neural network generated picture: "Putin looks for soldiers in prisons"

All in all, it sounded very attractive and solid. And the worst thing is that around 300 people out of the 1,300 serving their sentences in the colony wanted to sign up. And what's even scarier is that, according to a man from the entourage, the next time they will not be taking volunteers but those who are on the lists.

“Preference was given to those who had already killed“

Sergey, an inmate of a penal colony in the Bryansk region

We were all gathered on the second floor and then we went in there one by one. They called us for a polygraph test, for an interview, they asked if we had any relatives in Ukraine. They asked us if we had ever killed a person. They gave preference to those sentenced under Articles 105 and 111 <”Murder and intentional infliction of severe bodily harm” - The Insider>.

Out of 400 people they took 150. I passed all of the tests, I passed the commission, but at the last stage FSB officers came, and they rejected me because of my tattoos, I had a swastika tattoo. I think they were accepting those who had nothing to lose, but I was unlucky.

They asked if we had relatives in Ukraine and if we had killed people

I really wanted to go. I have no homeland, no flag, no family, my home was taken away from me. What am I going to do here? I will get out in three years, so what? I wish I could get out sooner.

But now I'm starting to feel a little happy I wasn't selected. I talked to people outside, they say that no one gets any payments in the end - families are still waiting for compensation for their relatives killed in the war. To be honest, it's like a meat grinder there - just minced meat. They show a nice picture on TV, but in reality things are completely different.

It also alarms me they mostly recruited HIV patients but did not take healthy people like me.

“He told us: We are an organized crime group that helps the Russian army“

Alexei, an inmate of penal colony No. 4 of the Federal Penitentiary Service in the Tula region

I saw a post the other day saying that Wagner PMC was vising prisons and recruiting men for combat operations. Recently, they also visited the Tula region, recruiting volunteers. Yevgeny Prigozhin flew in on a military helicopter. He said that supposedly after six months of war, your criminal record will be expunged. And if a prisoner has the citizenship of another country, he will be able to get Russian citizenship after participation in hostilities.

Allegedly Putin himself gave him permission to take anyone who fits the required physical profile.

First they send the volunteers to the camps in the Rostov region, where they undergo 20 days of training which looks pretty tough: they are given 3 hours to sleep, 1 hour for meals (3 meals 20 minutes each) and 20 hours of training. Then they are divided into groups of 12 and sent to the front line. And the PMC soldiers themselves, well-trained and experienced mercenaries, follow in the second line behind the volunteers, supposedly covering them.

He officially told us: ”I'm not afraid to say, we're an organized crime group that helps the Russian army.”

Neural network generated picture: "We are an organized crime group that helps the Russian army"
Neural network generated picture: "We are an organized crime group that helps the Russian army"

“We live in Russia after all, I wanted to serve the country“

Alexander, an inmate of a penal colony in the Bryansk region

When I first came in for my interview, there was a bald man wearing a star in the room and some officers in black, FSB officers. He asked me, I told him my surname, first name, patronymic and the article under which I was sentenced. He said, ”Do you want to fight?” - ”Yes” - ”We accept you.” He wrote something in his notebook and said: ”Go.”

When I came in the second time, there was a bearded man there. I went into his office, talked to him, and he asked me the same thing: ”Will you go to war?” - ”Yes.” I didn't even take a polygraph test, he agreed right away and said: ”That's it, all right, you're okay.” They also asked, ”Are you a drug addict?” - ”No, I just drink.” They promised we would fight for six months and then we would be released if we came back.

They promised we would fight for six months and then we would be released if we came back

I was sentenced under article 105, murder. I was totally fit, but later they came to me and told me I wasn't going to war. Someone needed to stay behind, there's a lot of work to do. Three other people were also turned down. They did not explain why.

I wanted to fight, to liberate all peaceful people, civilians. They are killing them there, the Ukrainians. I don't like it. That's the kind of person I am. We live in Russia after all, I wanted to serve my country. It's a pity I was left behind.

The material has been prepared in association with the Russia Behind Bars Foundation

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