Convicts who fought in Ukraine for the Wagner mercenary group for 180 days under a strict contract have been freed and are back in Russia.
The former convicts gained their freedom after fighting for the Wagner Group for six months and the founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was filmed shaking their hands for their service to Russia.
Prigozhin who has a powerful group of mercenaries and is a loyal friend to Vladimir Putin has recruited thousands of men from prisons.
They were offered a chance of freedom in return for serving on the battlefield in Ukraine.
In a series of speeches Prigozhin told the mercenaries that they like any other soldier in the world have learned a “great deal” and now know how to “kill the enemy.”
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He said, “Don’t booze too much, don’t take drugs, don’t rape women – [sex] only for love or for money as they say.
“The police should treat you with respect.
“You have learned a great deal – first of all: how to kill the enemy. I really don’t want you to practise that skill on forbidden territory… If you want to kill the enemy again you return.”
With a beaming smile Prigozhin added, “I hope the adrenaline you have used up over this past half a year will be enough for at least a month.
“Remember life has given you this chance: you didn’t dodge the honour, you didn’t arse it up: you defended the Motherland, all of you were ready to die in these past 180 days.
“Now we have to control ourselves.”
Wagner mercenaries just like Ukrainian forces have fought in some the most severe and bloody battles not seen since World War 1.
Last year the Kremlin allowed the recruitment of convicted murderers to fight on the frontline and thousands were drafted from prisons across Russia.
They were all told, if they survive then Putin will give them a pardon, if they try to escape then they will be killed.
The independent Russian media channel Verstka quoted some prisoners and said, “Firstly, recruiters show interest in those convicted for murder and robbery.
“Those inmates in prison for drug and sex offences are normally not selected.”
The Verstka report added, “Wagner recruiters refuse elderly people and those with serious illnesses.
“To check, they are asked to do push-ups on the floor, sit-ups and perform other physical exercises.”
The prisoners who went on to fight for the Wagner Group were told they will not have any documents, or any badge, and if they are killed their “bodies will not be given to their relatives.”
The inmates have been told if they survive six months of fighting they will be offered their freedom and will be paid £2,6000, but the prisoners told their families that “almost no one will return.”
If they are killed then the new recruits have been told their families will receive a payout of around £66,000 if they are killed in action, whether or not that happened no one knows for certain.