Two men, who claim to be former commanders in the Russian paramilitary mercenary group Wagner, have told an exiled human rights group they killed children and civilians in eastern Ukraine.
The confessions were made in video interviews which have been posted online by the organisation Gulagu.net, which is based in France and reports on corruption and torture in Russia.
Warning: This piece contains information readers may find distressing.
The former convicts – Azamat Uldarov and Alexey Savich – were recruited as prisoners and have now been pardoned by presidential decree.
Wagner enlisted huge numbers of prisoners to help swell the ranks of Russia’s battered forces.
The interviews where they describe their actions run at an hour long and were documented over the period of a week.
The men say the atrocities that they took part in happened in Soledar and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region where the fighting has been particularly savage.
In their statements they spoke about the horrific conditions and the use of torture.
Uldarov even described killing a young girl.
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“She is screaming, she’s a little kid you know – five or six years old. And I took a kill shot, you know. You know I wasn’t supposed to let anyone out. Not one. The order was to do a sweep, to liquidate everyone who was in my way.”
Savich also spoke in grotesque detail about how the group conducted house clearing operations.
“We have a f**king order to clear out a house. To clear out f**king completely. You understand – simply clear out. You understand what that means. There’s nothing about ‘lead the civilian out’, nothing like that. Just clear out the house. And who was there? I didn’t f***ing care.”
The men allege their orders came from the very top of Wagner, from the group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
During their testimony, they claim they were motivated to speak out because of feelings of guilt.
Chillingly Savich spoke about the consequences for disobeying orders he handed down – refuseniks had their “heads bound to their genitals” and their “buttocks ripped” before they were handed over to the Federal Security Service never to be seen again.
Their accounts have not been independently verified and Prigozhin has, since the accounts were published, denied the group was responsible for killing women and children.
Since the video emerged, the men appear to have retracted their confessions but the founder of Gulaga.net says both men have received death threats since going public with their allegations.
Wagner is a private mercenary group that has done much of the fiercest fighting in Ukraine.
Many of its number have been recruited from prisons and include murderers and rapists amongst their ranks.