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Alleged former Wagner mercenaries confess to killing women and children in Ukraine (updated)

In an interview with a Russian human rights organization, Russian ex-convicts recruited in the Wagner Group told how Wagner mercenaries committed war crimes in Ukraine.
wagner group prisoner recruitment decline
Wagner PMC, an illustrative image/ Source:
Alleged former Wagner mercenaries confess to killing women and children in Ukraine (updated)
Editor’s note. After the publication of this report, the Russian media Proekt has challenged the credibility of this interview in particular and Vladimir Osechkin, founder of, in general. Particularly, Proekt journalists claim that no confirmation of these testimonies has been found, and one of the interlocutors is a homeless man who was paid by Osechkin, although the latter denies it was a condition for speaking. The two cited men have stopped responding to journalists’ questions:

Proekt media challenges reputation of founder Osechkin

Two Russian ex-convicts recruited in the Wagner Group confessed how their command, including Wagner’s head Evgeny Prigozhin personally, gave them orders to kill Ukrainian civilians in eastern Ukraine.

The video of the conversation with the former Wagner mercenaries, Maksim Zelenov and Aleksey Chernyavsky, was published by the Russian human rights organization

Zelenov and Chernyavsky escaped from Wagner to the territory of Russia in January 2023. Both admitted that while in Wagner, they had witnessed the beating, torture, and shooting of Russians by Russians, as well as war crimes and massacres of Ukrainian civilians committed before their eyes.

Zelenov admitted that he participated in the massacre of Ukrainian civilians in the Donetsk Oblast (eastern Ukraine). Chernyavsky said that he did not kill civilians but witnessed war crimes committed by other Wagner mercenaries, who killed women and children in cold blood following the orders of their commanders.

Maksim Zelenov.
Screenshot from a video.

The Wagner Group recruited Zelenov and Chernyavsky in one of the prisons in the Irkutsk Oblast in the Siberian Federal District of Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned both on 12 November 2022 because they volunteered to fight against Ukraine.

Zelenov was sentenced to 11 years in prison for negligence and murder. Chernyavsky was convicted of car theft. conducted a check and received data from the database of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, according to which both Zelenov and Chernyavsky were indeed released on 24 November 2022 from jail under the decree of the President of Russia on pardon dated 12 November 2022. confirmed the testimony of Maksim Zelenov and Aleksey Chernyavsky about their criminal records in the past.

Zelenov, a former policeman and war veteran who participated in the Russian war against Chechnya in 1999, told Vladimir Osiechkin of that Wagner’s head, Evgeny Prigozhin, personally came to the jail to recruit prisoners. Chernyavsky said that the commanders of Wagner were looking for those “ready to kill women and children.”

Aleksey Chernyavsky.
Screenshot from a video.

Zelenov spent six years in prison. He explained his decision to join Wagner Group to avoid another five years in prison and receive a pardon. Chernyavsky also hoped to return home and receive a pardon after his contract with Wagner ended. Zelenov and Chernyavsky signed six-month contracts with Wagner Group and were deployed to eastern Ukraine. None of them thought that they would be forced to commit war crimes.

Zelenov was appointed a commander of an assault group of 12 fighters (all of them were ex-convicts) in Wagner’s military unit called the Umbrella. Chernyavsky was also assigned to the Umbrella. Only convicts with Hepatitis and AIDS were recruited into this military unit.

Chernyavsky confessed that commanders of Wagner ordered to kill everyone who came their way during offensive operations in Ukraine. Zelenov confirmed that the commanders of Wagner ordered them to kill both combatants and civilians. Those Wagner mercenaries who disobeyed orders were executed, according to Zelenov. A Wagner’s drone flew over their heads during offensive operations, recording “every move,” Zelenov said.

According to Zelenov, during the “mopping up” of one of the Ukrainian settlements, Wagner’s troops killed several dozen civilians in the vicinity of Soledar, which Russia occupied in December 2022. Zelenov said that Prigozhin personally ordered their group to throw grenades into the windows and doors of houses where there were women and children, then go inside and finish off the survivors.

“[We killed – ed.] Everyone. Regardless of gender. And there were grandmothers and grandfathers. We reached this five-story building, and we killed 40 people, probably. They were civilians. There were people in balaclavas standing behind us. If you went back, they would kill you too,” Zelenov said.

Chernyavsky confirmed that his group killed civilians and looted their homes, taking food from fridges because “they were hungry.” The Ukrainian civilians were unarmed and did not resist, Chernyavsky said.

“They [Wagner commanders – ed.] demanded to spare no one (neither men, nor women, nor children) because all those who lived in the village were Ukrainians. I saw a grenade thrown into the apartment, and there were children inside crying. We went in and saw a woman and a child. We had to finish them off. I couldn’t, I got out of there. Other people from my group carried out the order. They killed everyone. People were crying from their wounds, asking for help, but they killed them. The woman was about 35 years old, the girl was about seven,” Chernyavsky said.

Zelenov and Chernyavksy confessed that those who refused to follow orders were tortured and shot. Both admitted to witnessing several executions in Wagner’s camp on the occupied territory of Ukraine.

According to Chernyavsky, one of the ex-convicts was beaten by Wagner’s medical doctor (call sign Geneticist) with a bat and then tied with a rope to a tree, where he spent all night and bled to death by morning. According to Chernyavsky, the guy was killed because he fell ill and dozed off in his tent. “Nobody was allowed to help him,” Chernyavsky said. Another Wagner ex-convict ran away trying to escape the war zone but was caught by other Wagner mercenaries. They brutally beat him and shot him dead, Chenyavsky said.

Zelenov confessed that he saw another Wagner mercenary being severely beaten by commanders, then shot in the knees “to torment him,” and finally shot in the back of his head. Wagner’s commanders called such executions a “nullifying,” according to Zelenov.

In addition to brutal executions, Zelenov complained of inhumane treatment of ex-convicts in the Wagner Group. Prisoners were not given enough food, water, and medicine. Zelenov, who suffers from diabetes, did not receive insulin on time, although he was promised during recruitment and signing the contract that all necessary medication would be provided. “It was all lies, we were just cannon fodder,” he said.

According to, the testimonies of Maksim Zelenov and Aleksey Chernyavsky are consistent, logical, supported by documents, and consistent with the testimonies of other ex-mercenaries from Wagner Group Aleksei Savichev, Azamat Uldarov, Ivan Kotelevsky and Aleksei Zamaliev (published on the Youtube channel of in April, May, and June 2023).


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