The Wagner mercenary group recruits tens of thousands of Russian prisoners for the war in Ukraine. But why are the inmates getting involved in the deal? A fighter unpacked after being taken prisoner by the Ukrainians.

The deal is clear: anyone who survives at the front for six months can return home with impunity. With this offer, the Wagner mercenary group lured Russian prisoners into the war in the Ukraine. That sounds tempting to many – even if they suspect that they will be sent to the battlefield as “cannon fodder”.

One of these men is Oleg. He spoke to the “world” about his experiences. Oleg went to war for Wagner, but then ended up in Ukrainian captivity. Unlike an estimated 80 percent of Wagner recruits, he did not already die at the front. He can tell what made him accept the immoral offer.

First of all, Oleg, who was in prison for drug trafficking, says that when he was deployed in the war, his only concern was amnesty. Later he emphasizes it again: no ideology, just impunity. Only to admit in the end that he believed what the Russian state television was saying. That Ukraine is occupied by Western powers. And that these powers were killing civilians there.

Oleg also says: “We knew that we are only flesh.” And: “Our life has no price. We can be sacrificed.”

The “world” describes him as a “tall, gaunt man in his mid-30s with tired eyes”. Oleg reports that he received training and then spent a month in the Luhansk region. Of course, this cannot be checked. He was only really at the front for two days when he was captured shortly before Christmas.

The Wagner troops have long been deployed in war zones on behalf of the Russian government. For the Ukraine war, she was once again allowed to increase her staff considerably. The former elite unit recruited tens of thousands of men from prisons.

And they are now doing the dirty work for Putin in Ukraine. “Wagner is there to pave the way for the regular Russian army,” says Oleg to “Welt”. He saw only Wagner fighters everywhere in the Ukraine. From the logistics in the hinterland to the front row – no Russian soldiers, only Wagner people, according to his observation.

Oleg says that of the 50 men who went to war with him, no one is probably still alive. The rest died in the meat grinder at the front.