Wagner mercenaries: what we know about Putin’s private army in Donbas

russian mercenaries in syria

Russian PMC Wagner mercenaries in Syria. March 2017. Photo: gazeta.ru 


Article by: Stanislav Iasynskyi
Russian mercenaries in Ukraine earned RUB 120,000 per month (approximately UAH 55,000, or $2,000)

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) recently unveiled a sensational report – the operation in Crimea, the shooting down of an IL-76 above Luhansk Airport, and the capture of Debaltseve, a crucial railway hub that Russian-separatist forces wrestled from the Ukrainian army in the winter of 2015  – were all done with the participation of a Russian Private Military Company called Wagner. Wagner is President Putin’s private army, used in places where no laws exist.

Photo: snapshot from TSN video

Illya Sagaydak. Photo: snapshot from TSN video

His name was Illya Sagaidak. A former border guard, he had retired into the reserve, and now worked as a security guard for a local politician. But a different side of Illya fought in Syria. In 2017 Illya’s body ended up in the morgue of a Russian military hospital in Rostov. As his cause of death, the coroner wrote “acute heart failure.” Russian military coroners had written dozens of similar false diagnoses, but the soldier’s heart had begun to fail on the territory of Ukraine, and it failed him utterly later on, in the oil fields near Palmyra.

The deceased’s surname is not marked on official casualty rolls of the Russian Ministry of Defense, because he fought and died as part of a secret, private army.

In his own time, the head of the Starooskol district, Aleksandr Hniedykh, pinned a medal for courage on the mother of yet another deceased – Aleksandr Karchenkov.

Photo: snapshot from TSN video

Aleksandr Hniedykh. Photo: snapshot from TSN video

The district’s local news states that Aleksandr died under contract service liberating the Syrian town of Palmyra. But one document attests otherwise. Aleksandr was a mercenary in a private military company. In a job application, which fell into the hands of a Russian journalist, the 45-year old unemployed Oleksander had listed his skills (a judo trainer), and his hobbies – “I love to solve puzzles with my family.” Then he gave his agreement that the private military service could examine his friends, emails and personal life.

Special Forces Colonel Dmytro Utkin – call-sign “Wagner” – is the commander of the mercenary company. It was as part of this army that Illia and Oleksandr fought and died. In 2016 a photo briefly emerged on the internet in which Utkin appeared together with Russian President Vladimir Putin. All who saw it treated it like proof that Putin has a state army, and his own private army. An army for all circumstances – even a sudden palace rebellion.

Dmitri Utkin, the leader of Wagner, was spotted at a ceremony honoring the Heroes of the Fatherland in the Kremlin on 9 December 2016 by fontanka

Dmitri Utkin, the leader of Wagner, was spotted at a ceremony honoring the Heroes of the Fatherland in the Kremlin on 9 December 2016 by the Russian outlet fontanka

Ed: According to the Ukrainian investigative community InformNapalm, Utkin first fought in Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad as part of the Russian mercenary group Slavic Corps.  After suffering a defeat from the rebel forces, the Slavic Corps returned to Moscow and its leadership was sentenced to prison: mercenaryism is formally illegal in Russia. Upon returning to Russia, Utkin departed to Ukraine, heading his own group of mercenaries. Its name, Wagner, comes after Richard Wagner, a favorite composer of Adolf Hitler, for whom Utkin allegedly holds affection. The Slavic Corps veterans were seen both in the Crimea in February 2014 and then in Donbas, where they fought alongside Russian militants. According to the Russian media, the Wagner squad could have been involved in the killing of several warlords of the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic.” 

Russian journalist Denys Korotkov since 2013 has reported on the Wagner private army, gradually gathering together the terrible truth. Mercenaries in Ukraine were paid 120,000 rubles per month (approximately $2,000 USD). In Syria, Wagner operatives are paid double that. Denys first unveiled personal applications of Wagner operatives, stating that he had nearly 2,000 of such documents. After publishing his investigation on the Saint Petersburg site “Fontanka,” the journalist’s address and other personal information appeared online. He received threats.

Керівництво ЧВК Вагнер_6

Putin with Wagner Operatives – photo from fontanka.ru

On 7 October, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine Vasyl Hrytsak unveiled a sensational investigation into the part Wagner played in the majority of Russian military operations on Ukrainian soil from 2014 to 2015, beginning with the occupation of Crimea. The Wagner company, according to the information provided by the SBU and published by Russian journalists, consists of between 2,000 and 5,000 well-trained professional soldiers, as well as tanks, howitzers, and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. They train in a special, secret training ground in Rostov Oblast. According to Russian journalists, Dmytro Utkin answers to only one person: the businessman Yevhen Prihozhyn, who is Putin’s restaurateur. Appart from restaurants, Prihozhyn is connected to entities which secured a monopoly on provisions for the Russian army, and also with firms which defend Syrian oil and gas extraction. Prihozhyn takes for himself a quarter of the extracted fuel.

Recently, relations between the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Wagner private army have steeply declined. Information has appeared about the bad situation with armaments and payment delays for the mercenaries, and the wounded men of Wagner company are no longer flown back to Rostov on military airplanes, but in the baggage compartments of passenger jets. For Oleksandr Karchenkov, who loved to solve puzzles with his family, this puzzle cannot be solved. It cannot be solved for either the restaurateur Prihozhyn or Wagner’s commander Utkin – a private army which hides itself in the shadows, but the deluge of information about this private military company may mark the beginning of its end.

Wagner is only one of many private military companies waging war in the Donbas. For a detailed investigation of them all, see this piece by InformNapalm: Private Military Companies in Russia: Carrying Out Criminal Orders of the Kremlin.

Graphics: InformNapalm

Graphics: InformNapalm

Read also:

Translated by: Peter Koropey

Source: TSN, edited and adapted by Euromaidan Press

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  1. Avatar Screwdriver says:

    “photo briefly emerged on the internet in which Utkin appeared together with Russian President Vladimir Putin. All who saw it treated it like proof that Putin has a state army, and his own private army”
    We all know that US Army General Michael Flynn also appeared on the photo, dining with Putin in Kremlin.
    I wonder who is really in charge of US Army now… Putin ? WOW!

    1. Avatar focusser says:

      Not even the same place, check the chairs.

      1. Avatar Screwdriver says:

        Who said that chairs make a difference ? Ilf and Petrov ?

      2. Avatar Brent says:

        You’re trying to use logic and common sense on a Russo Nazzi toilet cleaner. Those are all foreign concepts the South Philly chimp is unable to comprehend….and sorry for insulting chimps!!! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/423aaced7e0670db5d0ed730cfa3b876cfd1e16f421b09c77d6a5203c4066216.jpg

        1. Avatar focusser says:

          Yes, Screwy and his ilk got lost on the evolution trail.

    2. Avatar Eddy Verhaeghe says:

      Screwdriver, a link for your education : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Flynn

      1. Michael Flynn is a ‘retired’ US Army Lieutenant General.
      2. Was apparently forced out of the US Army.
      3. ‘On November 10, 2016, President Obama warned President-elect Trump against hiring Flynn.’
      4. Lo and behold, only 24 days in his tenure as National Security Advisor, Flynn was unceremoniuosly sacked by President Trump…
      If I were you, I wouldn’t worry too much about who is in charge of the US Army.
      By the way focusser proved that only in your imagination Flynn also appeared on the photo… O what a wonderful asset the internet is for ‘Russophobe’ sleuths 😉
      And before you imply that I find focusser to be a Russophobe, I advise you to look up the meaning of irony and sarcasm.
      Have a nice day!

      1. Avatar Screwdriver says:

        That was an irony, you wasted your time on my “education”. 🙂
        Check “irony” in Wikipedia.

          1. Avatar focusser says:

            Nope, they don’t have toilets.

        1. Avatar focusser says:

          So did your school.

    3. Avatar Quartermaster says:

      Flynn was never “in charge of the US Army.” He would have had to get the rank equivalent to a Colonel General, and he never reached that rank. When he was the dinner with Putin, he had been retired from the Army for awhile.

      1. Avatar focusser says:

        Facts are lost on Russia trolls.

  2. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

    Excellent investigation. The photo of Putin with these scumballs is priceless. Two grand a month is hefty moolah in RuSSia. A RuSSian will kill for far less.

    1. Avatar veth says:

      Dmitri Utkin looks like a real nazzi from the Hitler-regime………..

    2. Avatar Sania says:

      crudje the cheap troll, who did live in kuevgrad during the Kulikovo Field battle
      in 1380? Future great ukras? No.

      1. Avatar zorbatheturk says:


        1. Avatar Sania says:

          bugger off, Peel, bugger off…hahaha
          u are culture beat now and true
          Knowing about kuevgrad is absent for 14th century

          1. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

            Fuggov, maggot.

  3. Avatar Eolone says:

    For an unmaked photo of top pic: http://www.interpretermag.com/fontanka-investigates-russian-mercenaries-dying-for-putin-in-syria-and-ukraine/

    From interpretermag: “One of the men in the photos was identified as a fighter with the call-sign ‘Shlang,’ who was killed in December last year by an anti-personnel mine.

    “Shlang is one of the men in the photo below, which Fontanka‘s experts have identified as being taken in the Summer of 2014 in the Starobeshevo area of Ukraine’s Donetsk region:

    [Photo here] ”


    The problem with the assessment of the experts at Fortanka [spb newspaper] is that the photo is not taken in Summer.

  4. Avatar veth says:

    Russia extends term of political asylum for Yanukovych The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation has extended the right to temporary asylum for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych until October 26, 2018, according to Yanukovych’s lawyer Vitaliy Serdyuk. Politics 01:10, 19 October 2017 90 READ LATER REUTERS “The reasons for the asylum are political persecution and the threat to [Yanukovych’s] life on the territory of Ukraine. They did not disappear. Thus, the validity period of the document was extended,” the lawyer told the Russian daily Kommersant. Read also Russia decided to send troops to Crimea even before receiving Yanukovych letter – witness testimony According to him, Yanukovych does not consider the option of acquiring citizenship or residence permit in Russia. “Only a temporary asylum before returning to the territory of Ukraine,” Serdyuk emphasized.

    Read more on UNIAN: https://www.unian.info/politics/2195164-russia-extends-term-of-political-asylum-for-yanukovych.html

  5. Avatar focusser says:

    Interesting that Putin uses nazzis to do his dirty work for him, and even pins medals on them too.

    1. Avatar Scradje says:

      His ideology comes from Alexandr Dugin, who definitely is one. He even self-identifies as a ‘national bolshevik’, which means the same thing. A close friend of ‘Strelkov’ and Borodai, he has praised the chekist rodent slavishly and called for genocide against Ukrainians at least twice. Apart from his evil politics he is a follower of the occult, especially black magicians like Aleister Crowley. He is a sick little weasel who nevertheless is treated with great respect by Russian state TV. Putinoid cretin Alex Jones often has him on his poison-spouting TV shows.

      1. Avatar veth says:

        The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine has terminated the intergovernmental agreement with Russia to preserve the specialization of companies and organizations engaging in military-related manufacturing.

        The relevant decision was made at a government session.

        The agreement was signed in Moscow on December 21, 2000, and came into force on March 4, 2005.

        According to the document, the parties undertake to facilitate the preservation of the manufacturing and technological specialization of companies and organizations involved in the development, manufacturing and testing of weapons and military equipment, offering military-related service, and supplying the materials, intermediate products, components, as well as training and auxiliary assets.

        However, article No. 10 of the document states that the termination of this agreement does not influence the obligations of the parties’ economic entities according to contracts made as part of the agreement during its validity, unless the parties agreed otherwise.

        In August, the Cabinet of Ministers terminated the intergovernmental agreement with Russia regarding the order of cooperation in the export of military products to third countries.

        RATHER LATE,,,,,,,,,,

      2. Avatar Sania says:

        bastardje the troll of zhmerinka high school, where did ukra army during nappolleon coming?

        1. Avatar Oknemfrod says:

          Hey, napPolLeon, you must’ve gotten the impression that when you lay your asinine verbal farts here they get auto-translated into intelligible English. You’re flat wrong about that: They don’t.

          1. Avatar Sania says:

            It is not bad for ukra fasci adult donkeys and ancient mules from ancient
            tribe. I mean my long non nazi narrative

          2. Avatar Simba Kijani says:

            Staryy drug, not see u in while. Did u enjoy summer in swamp of moskva?

          3. Avatar Sania says:

            Dear chump, to be correct–“on near city swamp”…
            What can wait people in desert places?–bombing from ds
            What can wait filth ukra fasci? Ds’ helping for dirty rebel and big blood
            What can

          4. Avatar Simba Kijani says:

            I see u still get exciting 4 ancient mule. simba ponimayet. mule is staraya but still popular transport in east region.
            So, u go to dacha in leto outside swamp? dobriyy, very good.
            Sorry to hear bout neurozhay. Agent trumpkov use iuda haarpov 2 make trouble. He go with ukra now. Komrade Dugin try to warn but Putie he not listen, now he have buyer remorse.

          5. Avatar Ihor Dawydiak says:

            True enough. However, in all fairness, what could anyone expect from a Serbian troll who was born and raised in a pigpen and can only oink out unintelligible drivel?

          6. Avatar Oknemfrod says:

            Well, now I have to stand for non-human pigs. They’re definitely more intelligent that this creature; and though they are born and raised in sties, when they oink they sound much more intelligible than he does when he supposedly uses English. At least their language is not a hodgepodge of a few castrated words, such as “ukra”, “fasci”, etc., loosely floating in verbal slop.

          7. Avatar Sania says:

            pidaras , forgive me I do not know inglish for sviokla. Hahaha…

          8. Avatar Oknemfrod says:

            There’s no “inglish” for anything, imbecile. But English for the Russian word “sviokla” is a beet. Ukrainian for it is “buriak”. Maybe in your neck in the woods it means something derogatory but outside it it’s just a root vegetable and the principal ingredient of the Ukrainian borscht.

          9. Avatar Sania says:

            ubludok, u are stupid uneducative anymal…
            go to prikk on ur thenew fasci land…

          10. Avatar Ihor Dawydiak says:

            Hovory do hory. This vulgar gopnik has the mentality of a 4 or 5 year old.

          11. Avatar Oknemfrod says:

            Plavdu movysh, pane-brate …

          12. Avatar Sania says:

            mraz’,ur donkey’s tail shows where u grew up
            in shame land without any roots….

          13. Avatar Simba Kijani says:

            Sarnie is starry komrade. He express him self very natural.

          14. Avatar Oknemfrod says:

            It may very well be that he (if it is “he”) expresses himself very naturally but it doesn’t make what he expresses any more intelligible. When a dog barks, it expresses itself very naturally, too; yet it’s very difficult to comprehend what it says. I have to admit, though, that, just like in the case with the oinking swine, it still sounds more intelligible than the “starry komrade”.

          15. Avatar Simba Kijani says:

            maybe u not liking yandex translator? it have top ranking in federation, da.

          16. Avatar Oknemfrod says:

            Don’t know what language you’re translating from. But if that is what Yandex has translated for you, it sucks. Google Translate would’ve done a much better job.

          17. Avatar Simba Kijani says:

            me? I pay tribute to sarnie the great! he have poet soul.

          18. Avatar Oknemfrod says:

            Yup, almost Poe or Kipling.

          19. Avatar Sania says:

            clown from background,these blind fasci do not know Cezanne is higher all impressionists. I do not say about Coltrane and his “Expressions”
            All it sense are nevermind for fasci pigs…

    2. Avatar veth says:

      Ukraine reports on Russian private military companies’ crimes to EP The Ukrainian delegation has presented a report on the crimes committed by Russia’s private military companies (PMCs) in Donbas and Syria to the European Parliament in Brussels, according to the press center of the SBU Security Service of Ukraine.

      Politics 19:55, 19 October 2017

      Press Association The SBU, the Information Policy Ministry, and the InformNapalm OSINT community prepared the presentation, which was delivered by Deputy Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine Dmytro Zolotukhin at a special event in the European Parliament. He provided data on geographic reach of the terrorist formations that are active in Crimea, Donbas, and Syria (previously in Bosnia and Herzegovina) on the Kremlin’s instruction. The Ukrainian delegation transferred data about the detected Russian militants to members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in order that those breaking international law be punished. Read also Wagner mercenaries Putin’s private army in Donbas – media Chief of the SBU Security Service of Ukraine Vasyl Hrytsak said earlier about the involvement of the members of Russia’s PMC Wagner in the downing of Ukrainian IL-76 with 49 militaries on board in June 2014, as well as other crimes. In Ukraine, a suspicion of committing a crime was issued to the leader of PMC Wagner Dmytro Utkin. According to the SBU, Polish Member of European Parliament Anna Fotyga organized the event “Russian private military companies fighting in Ukraine and Syria” with the assistance of the European Conservatives and Reformists group. It was also attended by MEPs, representatives of the European institutions, and relevant experts. The SBU assured it would further publish the list of criminals with their identification data and transfer it to the partners by relevant channels.

    3. Avatar veth says:

      Russian President Vladimir Putin said on October 19 President Donald Trump should be respected because he has a democratic mandate

  6. Avatar Sania says:

    fasci chumps, what is 120,000?
    Teachers and medicine workers have 60,000-100,000 for daily work
    in cities regions.