Wagner, the private Russian military company, has allegedly begun mass recruiting inmates suffering from infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. On Tuesday, October 25, the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Main Directorate of Intelligence reported that more than 100 prisoners suffering from these diseases have been recruited. The inmates were “mobilized” to the Wagner company from a penal colony in Metallostroy, a suburb of St Petersburg, Russia.
According to Kyiv, in the last three months, Russia has sent over 15,000 inmates to war. 6,000 of these people are led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a member of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Prigozhin is reportedly known as “Putin’s chef”, as his catering business hosted dinners attended by Putin with foreign dignitaries in the past.
In February, at the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, the Wagner company were tasked with killing Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Despite Putin’s denial of any relationship with the private military company, the Wagner group has also fought for Russia in Crimea, Donbas, Syria, the Central African Republic and Libya.
To mark the soldiers as ‘infected’, it is reported that the Wagner company is forcing recruits to wear coloured bracelets corresponding to their condition. According to the Kyiv Post, soldiers with HIV are obliged to wear red bracelets, whereas those with hepatitis C must wear white bracelets. It has also been reported that Russian medics refuse to provide care for wounded soldiers with these diseases.
In September, leaked video footage showed Yevgeny Prigozhin recruiting inmates to fight, promising them freedom if they were to serve 6 months with the Wagner command. The video, verified by the BBC, shows Prigozhin promising the prisoners “If you serve six months, you are free,” adding, “if you arrive in Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we will execute you”.
The Wagner leader promised that “nobody goes back behind bars” if they are to serve, even though Russian law does not allow prisoners to be freed in exchange for military service. Wagner operated on Ukrainian territory in 2014, and the group was alleged to have played a conclusive role in the battles for Luhansk airport and Debaltseve in the Donetsk region. In these battles, Ukrainian troops were surrounded and subsequently suffered major losses.
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