The disturbing video ruffled the feathers of the human rights community, because Yevgeny Nuzhin, a convict serving time for murder before he was recruited to Wagner, had earlier told Ukrainian media that he voluntarily surrendered and is ready to fight for Ukraine. It is unclear how he got back into the hands of Wagner.
Russian Telegram channels have published a video allegedly showing a mercenary of the Wagner private military company (PMC) being executed with a sledgehammer by, presumably, Wagner itself.
The mercenary, identified as Yevgeny Nuzhin, was recruited to fight in Ukraine, surrendered to Ukraine, and in an interview with Ukrainian journalists said he was ready to fight on Ukraine’s side.
The show execution, labeled “Hammer of Vengeance,” is likely a warning to other Russian convicts recruited into Wagner against surrendering to Ukraine.
The video, originally published on the Gray Zone Telegram channel (allegedly affiliated with Wagner), was shared by the Russian Telegram channel Baza.
The video description says that Yevgeny Nuzhin escaped from the front and voluntarily surrendered to Ukraine on 4 September 2022, and stated in an interview that he now wants to fight against the Russian army.
In the video, Nuzhin’s head is tied with tape to a semblance of an “anvil.” Yevgeny himself says that he was “walking down a street in Kyiv, when he received a blow to the head, as a result of which he lost consciousness. I woke up in this basement, where I was told that I was going to be tried.”
After these words, an unknown man hits Nuzhin on the head with a sledgehammer (cut out in the Baza video). At the end of the video, the inscription “Liquidated” appears.
In Gray Zone’s original post, the video was titled “Hammer of Vengeance” and wrote that “the traitor received the traditional Wagnerian punishment.”
In an interview with Ukrainian channels, Nuzhin previously said that he got into the PMC “Wagner” from the zone, where he served a 25-year sentence for the murder of two or more people.
Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin indirectly confirmed that Nuzhin was indeed executed in a Telegram post, suggesting that the execution was to dissuade other Russian convicts recruited for war in Ukraine from surrendering:
“Regarding the sledgehammered man, this show shows that he did not find happiness in Ukraine, but was met by unkind yet just people. I think this film is called ‘A dog gets a dog’s death.’ Great directors’ work, you can watch it in one go. I hope no animals were hurt during the filming.”
Videos of Prigozhin recruiting convicts for Wagner started circulating in the summer of 2022. According to numerous reports, the Wagner’s founder personally travels to the colonies to do this. According to a video released in September, Prigozhin not only promises pardon and payment the war participants, but also warns of execution in case of desertion.
Recently, Russia had allowed to mobilize those convicted of heavy crimes.
Human rights defenders shocked
Nuzhin’s execution has ruffled the feathers of human rights defenders and raised the question of how the POW got into Russia’s hands, as he was unlikely to be simply walking around Kyiv, as he says.
Nuzhin’s last video address to his family from Russian captivity was on 1 November. It was shared by his son with the Rusian Telegram channel Ostorozhno, Novosti, who claimed that Ukraine had told him that his father would not be put up for a prisoner exchange with Russia.
The project Gulagu.net, a Russian watchdog of the prison system, posted in its Telegram channel that according to one of its sources in Kyiv, Nuzhin was indeed exchanged. The source said that Ukraine received 20 POWs in exchange for him.
“And they handed him over to the Wagnerites to be massacred. I’m simply shocked. […] However, I don’t preclude that his extradition was a condition for a group exchange and that’s why [Ukraine] went for it. Pure Middle Ages.”
A second source of Gulagu.net said that Nuzhin was not exchanged but kidnapped in November and taken to Russian-occupied territory.
Gulagu.net founder Vladimir Osechkin issued an appeal to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, who asked to clarify whether this was somebody’s mistake, a glitch in the system, or Ukraine’s refusal to guarantee safety to Russians who surrendered.
At the same time, Osechkin made sure to clarify that his question does not “absolve dictator Vladimir Putin of responsibility for the war and the murder of tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians, and in no way absolves oligarch Prigozhin of responsibility for war crimes and this ritual murder.”
The execution also casts a shadow on the widespread Ukrainian practice of interviewing Russian POW. Ukrainian human rights activist Olha Reshetylova slammed the interviews, in which the Russians usually tell how bad things are in Russia, in a facebook post:
“First Ukraine calls upon the Russians to surrender. Then ‘journalists’ make stories with these prisoners, encouraging them to tell how they cooperate with the Ukrainian investigation and how bad everything is in Russia. It is clear that all this is done with the assistance of Ukrainian special services. Then these same special services exchange the same prisoners, knowing perfectly well that death awaits them in Russia. And to no surprise whatsoever, a video is released where such a person is publicly and brutally executed…. How many Russians will voluntarily surrender after this?”
She accused the “people allowing such interviews” of undermining Ukraine’s campaign calling on Russians to surrender, and suggested they ought to resign.
Are such interviews of Russian POWs a violation of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits subjecting POWs to coercive interrogation?
In a comment to Euromaidan Press, Reshetylova says it’s not clear, as the videos are shared by civilian journalists who are not obliged to abide by the Geneva Convention. But on the other hand, Ukraine’s authorities give these journalists permission and access to the prisoners.
This article was updated with Osechkin’s appeal and the headline was changed to make it clear that it was not Ukraine that killed the POW
- Russia’s Wagner Group financier Prigozhin continues to rely on ineffective convicts to staff his forces – ISW
- Wagner financier Prigozhin becoming political force in Russia – ISW
- Wagner PMC recruits Russian criminals and convicts for war in Ukraine
- At least 458 Russian prisoners recruited for war by Wagner Group died in Ukraine and received medals — The Insider
- Putin says 318,000 are mobilized for Ukraine war, allows mobilizing criminals