“Yes, I served at Wagner. There are some moments (in my story) that people don’t like, that I joined the organization in the first place, but nobody is born smart,” he said
A its former commander Russian mercenary group Wagner who fled to Norway said in an interview granted to Reuters that he wants to apologize for fighting in Ukraine and spoke out to bring the perpetrators of crimes to justice.
Andrei Medvedev, who crossed the Russian-Norwegian border on January 13, said that he witnessed murders and abuses by Wagner of Russian convicts transported to Ukraine to fight for the mercenary group.
“Many consider me a bastard, a criminal, a murderer,” Medvedev, 26, said in the interview. “First of all, again and again, I would like to apologize, and although I don’t know how it will be received, I want to say that I am sorry.”
“Yes, I served at Wagner. There are some moments (in my story) that people don’t like, that I joined the organization in the first place, but nobody is born smart.”
Medvedev added that he decided to speak out “to help ensure that the perpetrators are punished in some cases, and I will try to contribute, at least to the minimum.”
He mentioned an incident in which he said thati saw two people who did not want to fight being shot and killed in front of recently released convicts who had enrolled in Wagner.
Asked about other incidents he witnessed, he said he could not speak about them at this stage as the Norwegian police’s war crimes investigation is ongoing.
Reuters could not immediately verify Medvedev’s account in the interview.
Kripos, Norway’s national police agency, which has responsibility for investigating war crimes, has begun questioning Medvedev about what he experienced in Ukraine.
The 26-year-old has the status of a witness and is not suspected of anything other than illegal border crossing. Medvedev said he has nothing to hide from the police, adding that “I did not commit any crime, I was just a fighter.”
The Wagner group said Medvedev had worked in a “Norwegian unit” of the organization and had “mistreated prisoners.”
“Be careful, he is very dangerous,” the team said in an emailed statement to Reuters, echoing earlier comments by Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, about Medvedev.
Wagner’s forces have been engaged in a bloody battle of attrition against Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province.
In the Russian mercenary group, Medvedev said he led a platoon, took orders from a platoon commander and planned combat missions. He saw “acts of courage on both sides.”
The 26-year-old said he feared someone from his own side could execute him at any moment.
“What’s scarier? Realize that there are people who consider themselves your compatriots and who could come and kill you in a flash or on someone’s order,” he stressed. “Your people. That was probably the scariest thing.”
Medvedev left Wagner at the end of his four-month contract, even though his superiors told him he should serve longer, he said.
He left Russia last month over the border in the Arctic, climbing through barbed wire and eluding a border patrol with dogs, hearing Russian guards firing as he crossed a forest and over the frozen river that separates the two countries.
From the orphanage to joining Wagner
Medvedev was born in the Tomsk region of Siberia. He said he was placed in an orphanage when he was about 12 years old, after his mother died and his father disappeared.
He was drafted into the Russian army in 2014, aged 18, and served in the 31st Airborne Brigade based in Ulyanovsk.
“This was my first deployment in Donbass,” noted Medvedev, declining to elaborate.
The war in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after the overthrow of a pro-Russian president in Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass (a region comprising Donetsk and Luhansk) tried to move away from Kiev’s control.
Medvedev said he had served several prison terms, including one for robbery, and when he got out of prison the last time, he decided to join Wagner in July 2022.
As he stressed, he was not recruited straight out of prison, but decided to join because he realized he would likely be drafted into the regular Russian armed forces anyway.
He signed a four-month contract for a monthly salary of about 250,000 rubles ($3,575). He crossed into the Ukraine on 16 July and fought near Bakhmut.
“It was miserable. The roads to Artemovsk were littered with the corpses of our soldiers,” he recounted, using the Russian toponym for Bakhmut. “The losses were heavy… I saw many friends die.”
A Reuters report last week said it had identified a cemetery in southern Russia, a burial site for men who were convicts recruited by Wagner to fight in Ukraine.
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