To call Yevgeny Prigozhin a cynic would be a gross understatement. The head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner uses every opportunity to present his misanthropic worldview in the limelight of the world public. The latest illustrative material is provided by two videos that are believed to have come from the private army. One shows the murder of contract soldier Dimitri Jakushenko. On the other, a living Dmitry Yakushenko stands next to Prigozhin and says, "I've been forgiven."
The exact story behind these conflicting films is rather hazy. On Monday, February 13, Gray Zone, a Telegram channel affiliated with the Wagner Group, posted a video showing 44-year-old Yakushenko being beaten to death with a sledgehammer. "Trial with traitors," it says. A similar video made the rounds back in November. There, too, the execution of a mercenary by a sledgehammer could be seen. Supposedly he had surrendered to the Ukrainian army.
At the time, Prigozhin commented on the actions of his people with the sentence: He (the victim, ed.) did not find happiness in Ukraine, instead he met unwelcome but righteous people". Since then, the rough tool has become a symbol for the tremendous brutality and vigilantism by the Wagner troupe. The new footage, on which a sledgehammer was used again, was correspondingly sensational. But because the alleged victim Yakushenko can be seen alive in another, later video, the question arises the authenticity of the recordings.
According to research by the stern/RTL verification team, Jakushenko can actually be seen on the "execution video". Shortly before the hammer hits, parts of the recording are pixelated. It is therefore not possible to say with certainty whether he will be killed or whether it is a staging, a forgery or a mock execution. Because the mercenary not only appears in a second video, but now also gives interviews to the Russian media, the sledgehammer execution appears to be more of a PR stunt - as a warning to "traitors" internally and as a shocker for the outside world.
It is also possible, of course, that Yakushenko's performances were recorded before his death and are only now being disseminated by propaganda. Either way, the ex-combatant is fodder for Russian self-portrayal. His story, which is currently being circulated, is as follows: The 44-year-old was deliberately sent to Ukrainian captivity to spy on the enemy there. There he heroically captured information.
The Wagner man reports torture and violence in captivity: "The Ukrainians were tough, they hit me. The worst moment was when they threatened to castrate me and put it on the internet for everyone to see." , he told Russian military journalist Alexander Kots. The same can be heard from him, among other things, on the RT station.
Yakushenko is one of the soldiers Wagner recruited from Russian prisons. According to exiled Russian journalist Ksenia Sobchak, he stood trial for robbery and murder and then joined the mercenary lord. Until recently, army chief Prigozhin had lured inmates by allowing them to return to civilian life with impunity after the end of their term of service. If they survive the mission. But Wagner uses them primarily as human cannon fodder, which is why fewer and fewer inmates are willing to accept the deal. In the meantime, Prigozhin has refrained from recruiting them.
Yakushenko's life as a soldier was apparently short-lived: Apparently he was taken prisoner by the Ukrainians after just a few days. There he was also forced to speak to journalists. Among other things, he mentioned that Crimea would eventually be returned to Ukraine. In Russia, such a statement is almost considered treason. "I said what they wanted to hear. To stay alive," he said to Kots. How he returned to Russia is unclear, possibly via a prisoner exchange.
In the second video, which has also been circulating since Monday, Yakushenko says: "With Wagner, everyone has the right to correct their mistakes." And: "Before my return from captivity, I received valuable information that saved many lives. That's why I was forgiven, for which I am very grateful." It is unclear where and when this video was recorded.
The reporter Ksenia Sobchak asked Wagner boss Prigozhin about the videos and received a rather flowery answer: "Ksenia, don't look so gloomy, the children are having fun," he wrote via Telegram and supplemented his answer with allusions to two war films from Soviet times. The Prigozhin entry ends with the sentence, "Remember, good will always triumph over evil." I have yet to show whether this story has already been told in its entirety.
Sources: BBC, RT, Telegram, Meduza