Having notched a slew of new war crime allegations on their belts, Wagner fighters in Ukraine’s Bakhmut are now withdrawing from the decimated city to “rest” and relish in their “victory,” Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin announced Thursday.
“We’re all pulling out by June 1. We’re resting, getting ready [for the next assignment]. We’re transferring all positions to the military: a basement with a bed and sheets,” Prigozhin said, telling his men to “leave them the soap.”
Ukrainian authorities confirmed that regular Russian troops had replaced Wagner on the outskirts of Bakhmut, but said some Wagner fighters were still located in the city.
Separately, the mercenary boss bragged that some of his fighters had received high honors from the Kremlin after President Vladimir Putin intervened to order awards be given promptly.
“Thank you very much to the president for the high marks,” he said.
He said those leaving Bakhmut would be allowed to take a break before being sent on a new mission.
Or before killing and being killed back home.
Even as Prigozhin on Thursday gloated over the group’s supposed success and seemed to taunt his rivals at the Russian Defense Ministry, news broke that a Wagner fighter freshly released from the battlefield was almost immediately shot dead upon returning home.
A man identified only as Yury S. was shot dead while celebrating his homecoming in a village in the Irkutsk region on Wednesday night, according to local reports.
Having returned from the war zone just a day earlier, Yury had gotten into a drunken argument with an acquaintance at his party when the latter suddenly pulled out a gun and killed him. It was not immediately clear what the two argued about.
Police are now reportedly questioning the alleged gunman, identified only as Konstantin in local reports.
It’s not the first time violence has quickly followed the return home of a Wagner fighter. Earlier this week, a man reportedly wearing a military uniform and a Wagner patch was accused of sexually assaulting two school girls in Novosibirsk.
The 10- and 12-year-old girls told authorities that the mercenary warned them he had a grenade on him and threatened to “blow them up” if they didn’t do as he said, Baza reported. Investigators are still searching for the suspect, and his status in Wagner has not been confirmed.
Since the mercenary group secured pardons for hordes of prison inmates who agreed to fight in Ukraine, at least two of those ex-convicts have allegedly gone home and committed murders.
But Prigozhin clearly takes pride in what he claims the deranged prison-recruitment scheme accomplished. He made sure to take a parting shot at the regular Russian army Thursday as he performed his victory lap.
“We’re handing over the positions to the military… But if the military will have a hard time, of course, we’ll leave those who played a key role in the capture of Bakhmut,” he said in a video released by his press service.
“Everyone is thinking about how we won. There were two factors involved! The two people we are leaving behind. As soon as it gets difficult for the military: they will stand up and block the path of the Ukrainian army,” he said, presenting two mercenaries named Biber and Dolik for the camera, one of whom appeared to be prepubescent and the other on the verge of a nervous breakdown.