The Wagner Group reportedly lost nearly 20.000 men in the Battle of Bakhmut

Wagner / Photo: WillWest News / Profimedia
Wagner / Photo: WillWest News / Profimedia

The Wagner mercenary group lost almost 20.000 members in the battles for Bakhmut - from July 2022 to June 2023, most of whom were former prisoners, according to the latest data obtained by Mediazone and BBC Russia.

The Wagner mercenary group, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, recruited at least 48.366 convicts from Russian prisons to fight in the invasion of Ukraine, according to a joint investigation by Mediazone and BBC Russia journalists, who obtained and analyzed the private army's internal records. and a company that documented payments to families of combatants killed in battle.

Wagner asked the prisoners to serve on the battlefield for six months in exchange for a pardon and expungement of criminal records, with a good salary and insurance payments to their relatives in case they were killed or injured. Most of those members died during the Russian occupation of Bakhmut.

Prigozhin said the battle began on October 8, 2022, and ended on May 20, 2023, but casualty figures obtained by Mediazone and BBC Russia show that it actually took longer to capture the city, with mercenaries dying in that time. area from July 15, 2022, to June 6, 2023.

According to those data, the battle for Bakhmut lasted 327 days and claimed the lives of at least 19.547 Wagner soldiers, of which 17.175 were convicts, and the remaining 2.372 were voluntary mercenaries. Overall, one in three prisoners who signed up for the Wagner group (35,5 percent, according to internal reports) never returned from Bahmut.

Journalists calculated that Wagner spent nearly 108 billion rubles ($1,3 billion) on payments to relatives of his men killed in the fighting for Bakhmut. Each family received five million rubles ($61.000) in compensation, plus another 300.000 rubles ($3.700) for funeral arrangements. Relatives of conscript prisoners received a total of 92,5 billion rubles ($1,14 billion), while families of regular mercenaries received 15,4 billion rubles ($189 million).

An investigation by Mediazona and BBC Russia shows that Prigozhin was telling the truth when he said that Wagner's group lost around 20.000 men in the Battle of Bakhmut, but lied about the death rate among conscripted prisoners and volunteer mercenaries. (In a May 2023 interview with blogger Konstantin Dolgov, Prigozhin claimed that the death rate for both groups was approximately 20 percent.)

Prigozhin claimed that the purpose of the "meat grinder" was to exhaust the enemy by killing as many Ukrainian soldiers as possible. He said 50.000 Ukrainian armed forces died defending the city and another 50.000 to 70.000 were wounded. However, the Ukrainian Project UALlosses, which tracks Ukrainian military losses through publicly available obituaries, confirmed the deaths of only 8.900 Ukrainian soldiers in the Battle of Bakhmut.

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