“They gave me a place in a Wagner cemetery” – Russian activist flees to Armenia after revealing details of graves of mercenaries killed in Ukraine

A Russian activist who published details of the funerals of Wagner mercenaries killed in Ukraine has fled Russia. Vitaly Vodanovsky, who started documenting the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine and tracked down graves in his home region, fled the country on April 4 after receiving several death threats, the BBC reported, while he was in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. .ro.

Evgeny Prigozhin, mercenary leader of the Russian Wagner GroupPhoto: AFP / AFP / Profimedia

Last year, Vitali spent his 50th birthday in a prison cell.

The activist, from the Krasnodar region in southern Russia, was arrested and jailed on February 24, 2022, the day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A former Russian military official came out to protest that day, “No Putin!” He was wearing clothes that said. and “No War!”

Photographs of Vitaly in his suit are included in official court documents.

“I spent 20 days in jail because of those clothes!” He says.

In Krasnodar, Vitaly is known not for street protests, but for documenting graves.

He was the first to discover a grave in the small village of Pakinskaya in the Krasnodar region, which has since been called the Wagner grave.

This is where the notoriously brutal mercenary group buries many of its Ukrainian dead — those who have no relatives or whose bodies are unclaimed.

It has grown from a small village cemetery to an enormous cemetery with many new areas to accommodate the growing number of dead. Security officials are currently patrolling the area.

On Thursday, Wagner boss Evgeni Prigojin visited the cemetery in the village of Bakinskaia and said he planned to turn it into a memorial “for future generations”.

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The mercenary leader admits that the grave is widening, saying, “That’s life.”

Vitaly began traveling the Krasnodar region in May 2022, visiting each grave and recording the number of fallen.

“I had to prove to people that there was a catastrophe,” Vitali says, “and that people were dying here, close to them. I had to show people that war affects everyone and everything.”

He meticulously recorded the names and details of all the graves he found.

When he left Russia earlier this month, he had more than 1,300 names in his database – which included only the dead from the Krasnodar region.

Vitali identified the graves of men who had died in the war – as opposed to ordinary civilian deaths – by asking local people, as well as studying wreaths and photographs on the graves.

In December 2022, the activist went to Bakunskaya to photograph the graves of ordinary soldiers.

But while they were there, the cemetery workers told Vitali and his colleagues that they were burying Wagner mercenaries killed in battle.

“When we were there, there were already 48 Wagner graves. The next time I went, a few days later, there were 95 graves. Then 164. Then about 270,” he says.

Vitaly kept coming back to document the numbers and names of the dead. When asked if he knew who those people were, he said. “It was clear that they were criminals and mercenaries.”

“They were recruited from prisons. Journalists looked at the names and found out why they went to prison.

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But Vitaly didn’t just document the dead Wagner fighters from Baginskaya Cemetery.

He kept track of all the dead soldiers in all the cemeteries of the Krasnodar region. And what he discovered shocked him.

“The truth is that since December 2022, Russia’s battlefield losses have increased many times over,” Vitaly says, citing statistics he collected in Krasnodar.

“The deaths simply increased rapidly. Lately, in the cemeteries, all the mobilized soldiers and Wagner mercenaries were in the cemeteries. There were very few. [soldaţi profesionişti]”.

Many Western intelligence agencies have said the Russian military lacks men.

Last year, President Putin announced a “partial demobilization” in Russia – hundreds of thousands of men were drafted into the armed forces and sent to the front lines in Ukraine.

The last official death toll provided by the Russian military was in September 2022, when Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 5,937 soldiers had died in Ukraine.

Estimates of total casualties vary, but most US and European officials put the Russian death toll at more than 60,000.

Vitali received the threat several months ago.

“As soon as I wrote my first post about the cemeteries, the threats started. “We will kill you, destroy you.” In January, someone called me and “gave me a place in the cemeteries. There were three such calls – I received two calls, my driver Viktor received one call” said Vitaly.

The BBC obtained copies of the death threats and a recording of the phone call.

In it, an identified person disguised his threat as calling from a company that sells grave plots and coffins. He insists ominously: “It’s time for you to think about the end of your life.” (News.ro)

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The activist says the last straw came last week.

“I was passing a police station in Krasnodar, and a police officer recognized me]and said, “Get ready. It’s coming”. He mentioned the government’s reaction to the interviews I gave. They were already strong enough to open a serious criminal case against me,” he said.[lainterviuripecareledădeamAuavutdejadestulepentruadeschideundosarpenalseriosîmpotrivamea”aspusel

Vitaly fled to Armenia and now plans to seek political asylum in Germany.

Asked why the authorities did not want to publish information about Wagner and Russian casualties in the war, Vitaly replied: “For our state, these are terrifying statistics and the Russian people do not know the real numbers. I wanted to show people the true scale of the disaster. If people knew the true number of casualties on the battlefield, they would go crazy.” (News.ro)

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