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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Special Report: Wagner's Prison Recruits Accused Of 19 Murders Since Returning From War

An investigation by the Russian publication Agents Media finds that a number of Russian criminals who were granted amnesty in exchange for fighting in Ukraine have returned home and have been implicated in violent crimes — including more than a dozen murders.

photo of the scales of justice with policeman behind

Outside Moscow City Court

Sergei Savostyanov/TASS via ZUMA

Updated Oct. 6, 2023 at 6 p.m.

Russian military and paramilitary personnel who have returned from the front line in Ukraine have been implicated in a series of violent crimes, in which 27 people have been killed.

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According to an investigation by the Russian independent news site Agentsvo Media, these incidents involve at least 20 separate criminal cases, with former members of the Wagner mercenary militia being accused in the majority of these incidents.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the late founder of Wagner, stunned many last year inside Russia by confirming that he was recruiting from the nation's prisons to have convicted criminals join his troops in Ukraine. Part of the offer to prisoners: in exchange for fighting in the war, you will earn permanent freedom.

Fears of that amnesty backfiring across Russian society are now proving a reality, with this exclusive tally of violent crimes committed in just a few months after the convicts' return from the front in Ukraine.

At least 19 murders linked to Russian veterans

Out of the 20 crimes under investigation, 12 have been directly linked to former Wagner fighters, totaling 19 murders, with one case already resulting in a guilty verdict.

The recent spate of violence is particularly alarming, with two murders occurring within the first three days of October.

On Oct. 3, Denis Stepanov, a former Wagner member, was suspected of setting fire to a house in the Krasnoyarsk region, resulting in the death of two women. Just two days earlier, in Lipetsk, another former Wagner fighter allegedly killed his wife and four-year-old daughter.

At the end of September, in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Oleg, a former Wagnerite, was believed to have doused his sister with gasoline and set her on fire. In the middle of the same month, another ex-Wagner fighter, Sergei K., brutally beat a colleague with a stone due to an unpaid debt. Additionally, Chita resident Tsyren-Dorzhi Tsyrenzhapov, returning from the war, also became a suspect in a murder case during the same period.

Now they are free, and they want to eat.

August also saw a spate of violent crimes, culminating in a case where former Wagnerite Igor Sofonov and an associate were implicated in the murder of six individuals. To cover their tracks, they allegedly set fire to two houses. The disturbing pattern of violence extends back through the summer months. In July and June, two volunteers returning from the war faced accusations of murder. The trend began with three suspected murders in May, five in April, and two in March.

Photo of soldiers holding up flags

Prigozhin and some of his Wagner troops near the front line

Wagner Group

Warning signs ignored

Warnings about the consequences of the recruiting policy first began in November, 2022, when Grish Moskovsky, a Russian mob boss, said that convicts recruited by the Wagner Group for the war in Ukraine would eventually wreak havoc in society.

"Believe me; imagine who the Wagners are. All former convicts who were 20, 15, 18, 19 years old, who are behind bars for rape, for the spread of murder, and for all kinds of violence," the mob boss said in a video appeal. "And now they are free, and they want to eat. They want to earn money and want to feel good. And who will they go to? They will go to you, the common Russians."

In January, the first groups of Wagner recruits returned from the front and were granted a full pardon. At the time, Prigozhin had said the ex-convicts "should be treated with the deepest respect … They are absolutely fully-fledged members of society."

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Violence Against Women, The Patriarchy And Responsibility Of The Good Men Too

The femicide of Giulia Cecchettin has shaken Italy, and beyond. Argentine journalist Ignacio Pereyra looks at what lies behind femicides and why all men must take more responsibility.

photo of a young man holding a sign: Filippo isn't a monster, he's the healthy son of the patriarchy

A protester's sign referring to the alleged killer reads: Filippo isn't a monster, he's the healthy son of the patriarchy

Matteo Nardone/Pacific Press via ZUMA Press
Ignacio Pereyra

Updated Dec. 3, 2023 at 10:40 p.m.


ATHENS — Are you going to write about what happened in Italy?, Irene, my partner, asks me. I have no idea what she's talking about. She tells me: a case of femicide has shaken the country and has been causing a stir for two weeks.

As if the fact in itself were not enough, I ask what is different about this murder compared to the other 105 women murdered this year in Italy (or those that happen every day around the world).

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We are talking about a country where the expression "fai l'uomo" (be a man) abounds, with a society so prone to drama and tragedy and so fond of crime stories as few others, where the expression "crime of passion" is still mistakenly overused.

In this context, the sister of the victim reacted in an unexpected way for a country where femicide is not a crime recognized in the penal code, contrary to what happens, for example, in almost all of Latin America.

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