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Nearly 20,000 Wagner mercenaries died taking Bakhmut, media investigation confirms

by Chris York June 10, 2024 5:41 PM 2 min read
An aerial view of the city of Bakhmut totally destroyed from heavy battles on Sept. 27, 2023, in Donetsk Oblast. Destroyed towns in eastern Ukraine once again the focus of recovery efforts by Ukrainian forces. (Libkos/Getty Images)
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Nearly 20,000 Russian mercenaries died fighting for Wagner Group during the Battle of Bakhmut, an investigation by BBC Russia and Mediazona published on June 10 has found.

The outlets obtained documents shortly after the death of the group's founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin in August 2023, detailing the posthumous payments to relatives of those killed fighting in Ukraine between January 2022 and August 2023.

"This document contains more than 20,000 names of those killed," Mediazona writes, adding: "Most of the Wagnerites died in the 'Bakhmut meat grinder' –  more than 19,500 people."

The numbers roughly confirm the number claimed by Prigozhin himself in May 2023 when he said he had lost more than 20,000 men in the fight for the town.

Prigozhin's Wagner began to bring tens of thousands of convicts from Russia's prisons into its ranks, including those convicted of rape and murder, during the group's main recruitment drive in late 2022.

Used in combination with the more professional and experienced Wagner units, the prisoners proved to be highly effective as an expendable assault force.

Their main success was the capture of Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk Oblast now razed to the ground, in May 2023 after a months-long battle.

The report also found 17,000 of those killed were former prisoners, pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin in exchange for heading to the front.

Using the identification numbers of those killed, journalists were also able to determine that at least 48,000 prisoners fought for Wagner during this time.

Prigozhin later that year launched a short-lived insurrection against the Kremlin in late June 2023, capturing the city of Rostov and marching toward Moscow.

However, less than 24 hours after starting the rebellion, it was declared over and he announced that he was turning his forces around and returning to base.

Following an undisclosed deal allegedly brokered by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, the warlord was allowed to walk free and then released a video claiming to be in Africa.

Two months later – on Aug. 23 – a private jet with Prigozhin onboard crashed not far from Moscow, killing him and everyone else onboard.

According to unnamed U.S. officials cited by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Aug. 24, the likely cause was a bomb onboard or "some other form of sabotage."

A later WSJ piece put the finger of blame on Nikolai Patrushev, Putin's "right-hand man."

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