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‘Putin’s chef’ trawls jails for convicts to join group of mercenaries

:: Website says 1,000 persuaded to fight in Ukraine for salary and pardon

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Hollywood actor Jessica Chastain and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pose for a picture before a meeting, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: Reuters

Hollywood actor Jessica Chastain and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pose for a picture before a meeting, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: Reuters

Hollywood actor Jessica Chastain and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pose for a picture before a meeting, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: Reuters

The Kremlin insider known as “Putin’s chef” personally toured Russian prisons to recruit 1,000 convicts to fight for his Wagner mercenary group in Ukraine, a Russian opposition website has reported.

Together with the “Russian Sitting” charity, which supports families of convicts, the Verstka news website said that Wagner had persuaded up to 1,000 criminals from 17 prisons to sign up to fight in Ukraine in return for a salary and a presidential pardon.

“Three prisoners told human rights activists that businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin was allegedly coming to the colony,” it reported. Verstka quoted a spokesman for Mr Prigozhin as saying that he had not been involved in the recruitment drive.

Inmates who spoke to activists from the Russia Sitting group said that physical condition and an allegiance to “defend the Motherland” were Wagner recruiters’ top criteria.

“Firstly, recruiters show interest in those convicted for murder and robbery,” Verstka reported, quoting prisoners. “Those inmates in prison for drug and sex offences are normally not selected.”


But Russia Sitting has warned inmates and their families that this is not an
easy way out of a prison
sentence.

On its website, it said that all the promises made by Wagner and other Russian mercenary groups called Shield, Slavic Corps, Patriot and Redut are legally impossible to enforce and that they should not be trusted.

Wagner offers recruits 200,000 roubles (€3,202) per month salary, a presidential pardon and a so-called “coffin payment” to the family of the mercenary if he is killed.

“We can advise relatives, if possible, to convey the risks to their loved ones and try to dissuade them from accepting the offers of mercenary recruiters,” said Russian Sitting.

Mr Prigozhin is a Russian oligarch who earned his
nickname because he was once pictured in a chef’s uniform serving Vladimir Putin dinner.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said yesterday that if Russia proceeded with referendums in occupied areas of his country on joining Russia, there could be no talks with Ukraine or its international allies.

Russian forces and their separatist allies now hold large swathes of territory in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region and in southern areas after launching what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” into its neighbour’s territory. Officials in both areas have raised the possibility of holding referendums.

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In his nightly video address, Mr Zelensky said Kyiv was holding fast to its position of yielding no territory to Russia.


“If the occupiers proceed along the path of pseudo-referendums, they will close for themselves any chance of talks with Ukraine and the free world, which the Russian side will clearly need at some point.”

Russian and Ukrainian officials held several sessions of talks soon after Russian forces launched their invasion of Ukraine in February.

But little progress was made and no meetings have been held since late March, with each side blaming the other for the halt to contacts.

Ukraine said yesterday that renewed Russian shelling had damaged three radiation sensors and hurt a worker at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, in the second hit in consecutive days on Europe’s largest nuclear facility.

President Zelensky called Saturday night’s shelling “Russian nuclear terror” that warranted more international sanctions, this time on Moscow’s nuclear sector. Kyiv said Russia hit a power line at the plant on Friday.

However, the Russian-installed authority of the area said Ukraine hit the site with a multiple rocket launcher.

Reuters could not verify either side’s version.

Events at the Zaporizhzhia site have alarmed the world.

Elsewhere, a deal to unblock Ukraine’s food exports and ease global shortages gathered pace as another four ships sailed out of Ukrainian Black Sea ports while the first cargo vessel since Russia’s February 24 invasion docked.

The four outgoing ships had almost 170,000 tonnes of corn and other food.

They were sailing under a deal which was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey aimed at helping to ease soaring global food prices that have resulted from the war.



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