Igor Russak/File Photo/Reuters
- An ex-convict who fought for Wagner in Ukraine said the front line was “utter hell,” Reuters reported.
- The convicted kidnapper said he saw fellow fighters “cry” and “vomit” in the trenches.
- Wagner recruited thousands of convicts to help address Russia’s manpower issues in the war.
An ex-convict recruited by the Wagner Group to fight for Russia in Ukraine painted a grim picture of life on the front line in an interview with Reuters.
Dmitry Yermakov, 38, a convicted kidnapper who joined Wagner 10 years into a 14-year sentence, said fighters were greeted by “corpses ripped to shreds” when they arrived at the front.
“And what do they do? Some of them vomit, some of them cry, and some of them don’t want to climb out of the trench. Fear takes over,” Yermakov said.
Yermakov was only in the fight for several days before he was wounded, describing his last day on the front line as “utter hell.”
Russia has suffered substantial casualties in Ukraine and struggled with manpower issues, even after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization in September. In the face of these personnel problems, Russia turned to the infamous Wagner mercenary group for help. Wagner recruited thousands of prisoners for the fight, promising them pardons in exchange for their service.
Numerous reports have indicated that the convicts recruited by Wagner received little to no training before being sent into battle, and the consequences have often been fatal. Reuters spoke with five former convicts who indicated they were given roughly two to three weeks of intensive training before being sent to fight, a remarkably short period of time in comparison to other conventional militaries.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, argued in a statement to Reuters that Wagner was “probably the most experienced army that exists in the world today.”
A Ukrainian medic runs through a partially dug trench on the frontline outside Bakhmut on March 5, 2023.
John Moore/Getty Images
Wagner has used prisoners on the front line in Ukraine like “cannon fodder,” according to the White House, which said last month that the mercenary group has suffered “more than 30,000 casualties, including approximately 9,000 killed in action.” The vast majority of Wagner fighters who have been killed in Ukraine were convicts, per US intelligence.
The mercenary group has played a central role in Russia’s costly fight to seize Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine with a pre-war population of roughly 70,000. The battle over Bakhmut has emerged as the longest in the war so far, with both sides refusing to give up on the city despite the fact it’s not viewed as strategically important.
Western analysts have questioned the logic of Ukraine’s refusal to retreat from Bakhmut, contending that Kyiv is expending its resources over a lost cause that will offer Russia little more than a symbolic victory. Meanwhile, Kyiv has made the case that reinforcing its position in Bakhmut is worth it to force Russia and Wagner to continue to expend valuable men and resources.