war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia hides new crimes committed by convicted prisoners pardoned by Putin for killing in Ukraine

Halya Coynash
While sentencing political prisoners to 20 years, Russia releases multiple killers, armed robbers, etc. to fight in Ukraine and then sends them home to continue killing, raping and robbing with violence there

Prigozhin recruiting convicted murderers, rapists, armed robbers and other prisoners to kill Ukrainians (screenshot from a video on Telegram)

Prigozhin recruiting convicted murderers, rapists, armed robbers and other prisoners to kill Ukrainians (screenshot from a video on Telegram)

32 thousand convicted criminals have, reportedly, returned to Russia as free men after being recruited to fight and kill in Ukraine from Russian prison colonies where they were serving sentences for murder, armed robberies or other crimes. Both Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the notorious Wagner ‘private military company’ and Russian president Vladimir Putin who ‘pardoned’ such individuals, claim that considerably less than 1% commit new crimes.  It is unclear how any of the above figures were determined, and very likely that they do not reflect the true situation.  Prigozhin’s claim that 32 thousand prisoners survived the fighting is almost certainly exaggerated. In addition, the independent publication Verstka, for example, carried out its own investigation and found that Russian investigative bodies and courts are concealing the names and backgrounds of a number of men who have already committed new crimes since returning from Ukraine.  

Verstka found that, in cases involving men who had returned from fighting in Ukraine, the courts had tried to omit their names.  The Investigative Committee, prosecutor’s office and police, in their turn, do not mention such crimes on their official websites.

In normal conditions, a person’s previous offences would be taken into account, as aggravating circumstances, if he committed new crimes.  Now, however, Putin’s decrees pardoning them mean that the slate has been cleaned. Earlier reports in Russia, before the mass recruitment of convicted criminals, suggested that courts were tending to hand down more lenient sentences where men had fought in Ukraine.

Nor are you likely to find truthful information about Wagner or other convicted criminal mercenaries in mainstream Russian media.  In March 2023, new amendments were rushed through to Russia’s draconian legislation prosecuting for the truth about Russia’s war against Ukraine and anti-war sentiments by calling them ‘fake information’ or ‘statements discrediting the Russian armed forces’.  The amendments extended such effective silencing orders to cover members of the ‘Wagner pmc’ or other mercenary units working closely with the Kremlin and/or Russian defence ministry.  Given the harsh prison sentences passed against Russians who simply told the truth about Russia’s attacks on civilians, atrocities in Bucha or killing of children, by no means all journalists will dare to probe and write about the background of Russia’s new ‘veterans’.

Old but pardoned and new murders

On 30 March, Russia’s Investigative Committee reported the arrest of a 28-year-old accused of knifing to death an 85-year-old woman in her own home in the city of Vyatskiye Polyany (Kirov oblast).  The man’s name is not given, nor is anything said about his background.  Verstka, however, identifies the man as Ivan Rossomakhin who had been serving a 14-year sentence since 2020 for armed robbery and murder when recruited to fight in Ukraine.

Demyan Kevorkian [b. 1991] was first sentenced for robbery in 2010.  In 2016, he was found guilty of a range of violent crimes, including the formation and heading of a criminal gang accused of killing at least one of its robbery victims and sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment.  On 4 May, a court press service reported that he and two other men had been remanded in custody on suspicion of double murder with the victims robbed and then buried.  The court report says nothing about Kevorkian’s past, however various Russian media did report his past, with all, admittedly, citing ‘the media’ as their source for such details, as well as for the suggestion that he had only returned from fighting in Ukraine a month earlier.  The new crime bore strong similarities to those over which he had earlier got 18 years.

A third person, pardoned for having gone to kill in Ukraine, is now in custody, accused of violent acts of a sexual nature against two schoolgirls. On this occasion, Prigozhin admitted that the man had been a Wagner fighter.

Other former prisoners turned ‘veterans’ of Russia’s war against Ukraine are now accused of causing the death by drug overdose of a minor; of large-scale theft; of grievous bodily harm or other crimes.  In all these cases, nothing is said of the individual’s past.

One of the reasons why criminals are put in prison is because they pose a threat to society.  Many victims or their families are now understandably petrified at the prospect of the convicted criminal returning after serving only a part of their sentence.  In February 2023, the Guardian spoke with people who knew Anatoly Salmin, a convicted thief and murderer, who had been released from prison and pardoned for agreeing to fight in Ukraine. “In interviews, those who knew Salmin said they feared running into the same man who once terrorised their home town and may now have been made untouchable by his association with Prigozhin, one of Russia’s most notorious figures.”

Since the apparent failed ‘coup’ on 24 March, efforts have been underway to discredit Prigozhin in the Russian state-controlled media.  None of this is likely to change the current regime’s recruitment of prisoners which had, in any case, been taken over by Russia’s defence ministry.  The latter are, reportedly, even less fastidious about whom they take than Prigozhin and Co.  

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