According to the head of the mercenary group Wagner, a first group of Russian convicts was pardoned and released after the combat mission in Ukraine.

“You have fulfilled your contract. They worked honorably, with dignity,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video shared by Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency on Thursday. It shows Prigozhin speaking to a group of men, some of whom are injured, whose faces are blurred.

The men should be “treated with the deepest respect” by society after the conclusion of their six-month contract, businessman Prigozhin demands in the video in front of the men. “Don’t drink way too much, don’t do drugs, don’t rape women, don’t do anything stupid,” the Kremlin confidante continued.

The Wagner Group fighters are at the forefront of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, particularly in the battle for the town of Bakhmut, which Russian forces have been trying unsuccessfully to capture since the summer. Before the conflict in Ukraine, Wagner mercenaries had been seen in Syria, Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic.

In September, a video surfaced of a bald man who looked very much like Prigozhin in a prison yard offering inmates contracts to go on combat duty in Ukraine on dissuasive terms. “If you arrive in Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we will consider it desertion and shoot you,” he says in the video, adding, “Any questions guys?”

The bald man also orders the men not to surrender and explains that they have grenades with them in case of capture. “When you die, your body will be returned to the place you wrote on the form,” he adds.

It was not possible to verify whether the man in the video is Prigozhin. At least his company Concord did not deny this. The company quoted him as saying: “Of course, if I were a prisoner, I would dream of joining this friendly group, not only to repay my debt to the fatherland, but to repay it with interest.”