While Russia’s Wagner Group embarks on a frenzied recruiting spree after massive losses in Ukraine, pissed-off family members of dead recruits say they’ve been ripped off by the shady band of mercenaries.
“I buried my son, and haven’t gotten any kind of payment for him yet, not a cent! I will not be quiet about this!” said Yelena, the mother of Sergei Shevchenko, a prison inmate in the Krasnoyarsk region who died after being recruited by Wagner.
Local authorities in the town of Kodinsk announced Shevchenko’s death, and wrote that the family was in need of “financial support” to give the former inmate a proper burial, according to local media. This despite Wagner promising to cover burial expenses and issue compensation for war deaths.
Yelena said she didn’t know that her son, who’d been jailed on a repeat drunk driving offense, had been swept up by Wagner until he’d already been taken away to join the war.
“I’ve already raised a fuss with the military registration and enlistment office, and reported it to our local newspaper … . If this ‘Wagner’ doesn’t give me anything, I will seek him out!,” she said.
Other families have made similar complaints. After Nikita and Alexander Arychenkov, two brothers from the Krasnodar region, were killed while fighting for Wagner in late December, their sister took to social media to shoot down claims the family could at least take consolation in the fact they now have “material prosperity.”
“Nobody has paid [us] anything,” she said.
The problem has apparently been widespread enough that it served as inspiration for graffiti in Voronezh, St. Petersburg, and other cities where messages went up demanding Wagner pay up on its promises.
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin responded to the allegations late last month, saying through his press service that the graffiti must have been done by someone with a grudge against him.
“All fighters get paid down to the last penny,” he said. “All the dead receive the funds written in the contract. That is why not a single person in this world can have a complaint against me regarding payment,” he said.
It was not immediately clear if the same rules apply for those who are executed by the group over perceived betrayals or infractions.
Human rights groups and former members have spoken out about several executions being carried out within the private army to force other fighters not to step out of line. The most high-profile case linked to the group, of course, was the brutal sledgehammer execution of former member Yevgeny Nuzhin, filmed and circulated by a Wagner-linked channel on Telegram to demonstrate the group’s “retribution” last November.
An anonymous Wagner fighter told the VchK-OGPu Telegram channel earlier this month that the group doesn’t issue payouts for the executions, or in cases where there is “no body.”
He also said the group has subtler ways of executing its own undesirables.
“As a ‘nice’ type of execution, [there could be] an explicitly fatal task, where it is basically impossible to survive: Storming positions as far as you can go; reconnaissance by fire without a chance to return, etc,” he said.
“It has become kind of a tradition.”