The Russian Wagner group fighters have redoubled their efforts in Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine. The city, riddled with trench warfare, is a bloodbath. Just this week, Russia claims to have killed more than 220 Ukrainian service members in the space of just 24 hours. The infamous Wagner group, labelled a “terrorist” organisation by the Lithuanian government this week, has allegedly been using conscripted prisoners in their war. These fighters have now been described as sadistic by one Ukrainian serviceman on the front line.
The Ukrainian captain, called Borys, spoke to Middle Eastern Correspondent, Quentin Sommerville, while just hundreds of metres from their enemy about the “drug addicts, alcoholics and murderers” his brigade is up against.
The former architect said he and the 28th mechanised brigade have fought since the beginning of the war, but that the conflict in Bakhmut is the deadliest they had come across in the past year.
Ukrainian forces are battling to hold on to Bakmut despite the onslaught of Vladimir Putin’s army despite suffering up to 200 casualties a day according to estimations.
One Moscow-based analyst, with insight into Russia’s ministry of defence, told the Guardian anonymously that up to 8,000 Russian troops had been killed. However, the majority of these were newly recruited convicts.
Speaking battlefront last week, Borys said the Wagner group neither have a purpose nor a leader, their sole aim is violence.
He said: “Wagner – they have absolutely no principles. They have no leader they are fighting for. They’re just drug addicts, alcoholics, and murderers from prison. Life is worth nothing to them. They lose nothing when they die.
“We fight for our homeland, our motherland, our family. They came here to rob, steal, rape and kill.”
According to the US Treasury, which sanctioned the “brutal” Wagner Group in a bid to impede Putin’s war machine in January, members of the private military company had committed the likes of mass executions, rape and child abductions in the Central African Republic and Mali, where they are also present.
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The Wagner group were also accused of playing a part in the torturing, raping and murder of civilians in the small Ukrainian city of Bucha in April last year.
UN experts have now described the Wagner group recruits as having “participated in human rights and humanitarian law violations in the context of the ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine including enforced disappearances of Ukrainian soldiers and officers captured during hostilities with Ukrainian forces.”
According to “alarming” and “deeply disturbing” reports received by the UN last week, the Wagner group has allegedly been recruiting prisoners serving sentences in correctional facilities across Russia as well as in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
These prisoners, who are then deployed in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, have their sentences pardoned and money sent home to their families as payment for their taking part in the conflict.
However, the UN also learned that some prisoners have not wanted to engage in the war. They have been forced to take part in hostilities by being threatened with punishment and intimidation.
According to reports, once they agree, or are made to agree to take part, they are taken to a detention facility in Russia’s Rostov region for training before being sent to Ukraine.
The experts were “deeply disturbed” by the reports that the prisoners go to the war-torn country without identification documents and that they are forced to sign a contract with the Wagner group.
There have been reports that “several” recruited prisoners who attempted to escape were executed or brutally punished in public to set an example to other recruits, tactics the UN says may “amount to war crimes”.