Former Wagner commander: ‘I am sorry for fighting in Ukraine’

Former Wagner commander: ‘I am sorry for fighting in Ukraine’

Former Wagner commander fled Russia to Norway. 26-year-old took part in the fighting near Bakhmut. Says he was afraid of being executed by his own side

OSLO, Feb 1 (Reuters) – A former commander of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group who fled to Norway told Reuters he wanted to apologize for the fighting in Ukraine and spoke out for being the perpetrators of atrocities in the conflict to bring to court.

Andrei Medvedev, who crossed the Russian-Norwegian border on January 13, said he witnessed the murder and ill-treatment of Russian prisoners who were brought to Ukraine to fight for Wagner.

Medvedev said he fled across the Arctic border, climbing through barbed wire fences and dodging a border patrol with dogs while hearing gunshots from guards through a forest and across the frozen river that separates the two countries.

The 26-year-old is now seeking asylum in Norway.

“Many consider me a scoundrel, a criminal, a murderer,” Medvedev said in an interview. “First of all, I want to say sorry over and over again, and while I don’t know how it would be received, I want to say I’m sorry.

“I want to explain that I’m not that person. Yes, I served with Wagner. There are some moments (in my story) that the people I’ve even been through don’t like, but nobody’s born smart.”

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Appearing relaxed and confident, Medvedev said he wanted to speak about his experiences in the war so that “the perpetrators of their crimes in Ukraine will be punished.”

“I have decided to take a public stand against this to help ensure that perpetrators are punished in certain cases and I will try to do at least a little bit.”

Wagner is embroiled in a bloody battle of attrition in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

A special report published by Reuters last week found a cemetery in southern Russia where men who were convicts recruited by Wagner to fight in Ukraine were buried.

Kripos, Norway’s national criminal police service responsible for investigating war crimes, has started questioning Medvedev about his experiences in Ukraine. He has witness status.

Reuters could not immediately verify his claims.

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, previously said Medvedev worked in one of Wagner’s Norwegian units and “mistreated prisoners.”

“Be careful, he’s very dangerous,” Prigozhin said.

Wagner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.


Medvedev was born in the Tomsk region of Siberia. He said he was placed in an orphanage when he was about 12 after the death of his mother and the disappearance of his father.

He said he was drafted into the Russian military in 2014 at the age of 18 and served with the 31st Airborne Brigade in Ulyanovsk.

“It was my first mission in Donbass,” added Medvedev, without giving any further details.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president was ousted in Ukraine’s Maidan revolution and Russia annexed Crimea, while Russian-backed separatists in Donbass — made up of Donetsk and Luhansk — sought to break away from Kiev’s control .

Medvedev said he had served several prison sentences, including one for robbery, and the last time he got out of prison, he decided to join the Wagner group in July 2022.

Medvedev said he was not recruited directly from prison but decided to join because he realized he would likely be mobilized in the regular Russian armed forces anyway.

He signed a four-month contract for a monthly salary of around 250,000 rubles ($3,575). He entered Ukraine on July 16, he said, and fought near Bakhmut.

“It sucked. The roads to Artemovsk were littered with the bodies of our soldiers,” he said, using the Russian place name for Bakhmut. “The losses were heavy. … I saw many friends die.”

At Wagner, Medvedev led a squad, took orders from a platoon commander, and planned combat missions. He said he saw “brave acts from both sides”.

Medvedev said he witnessed two people who did not want to fight being shot dead in front of newly recruited prisoners.

“The scariest thing? To realize that there are people who consider themselves your countrymen and who could come and kill you instantly or on someone’s orders,” he said. “Your own people. That was probably the scariest thing.”

Medvedev left Wagner at the end of his four-month contract, although his superiors told him he needed to serve longer, he said.

When asked if he wasn’t afraid of being shot for refusing to fight, Medvedev said: “You kind of forgot to instill in me the instinct of self-preservation growing up in an orphanage. So not really.”

($1 = 69.9305 rubles)

Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, Janis Laizans and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; Arrangement by Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Gwladys Fouche

Thomson Reuters

Monitors coverage from Norway for Reuters and loves to go to Svalbard in the Arctic, oil rigs in the North Sea and guessing who will win the Nobel Peace Prize. Born in France, she has been with Reuters since 2010, has worked for The Guardian, Agence France-Presse and Al Jazeera English, among others, and speaks four languages.

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