Viktor Sevalnev, a Russian prisoner who commanded the 7th motorized rifle company of the so-called “LPR people's militia”, called his wife Lilia on November 20 and told her that he was going to be taken away from a hospital where he was recovering from a combat wound and shot for having deserted his soldiers. Vladimir Osechkin, head of the Gulagu.net media project, provided a recording of the conversation between Sevalnev and his wife, along with other evidence, to The Insider.
“Today it's me, tomorrow another, that's all. We’re just murder material [to them]. The Ministry of Defense executes people. They know that we’re [dead men] and they don't give a damn. I wish I could go back to where I was [on the front], and they won't let me. If I knew it was this kind of war. My name is Sevalnev Victor Anatolievich, born September 27, 1979. Don't send people here, that's enough. They want to kill everyone,” was the last message Sevalnev sent through his wife.
On December 1, a representative of the Russian Defense Ministry told Lilia that her husband died in the “DPR” on November 25 from shrapnel wounds and a powerful blow to the head. He promised that a zinc coffin with the body and documents would soon be sent to her in Moscow. He added: “My condolences, I'm sorry.”
Representatives of the Wagner PMC visited penal colony No. 3 (IK-3) in the Kaluga region, where Sevalnev was serving his sentence, on multiple occasions. First they recruited his son Oleg, who was serving time in the same colony. When his son was killed in combat, Sevalnev decided to go to war himself. He signed a contract with the Defense Ministry, and on the night of October 3 to 4 he was transported from the colony to a “combat training camp” in the Luhansk region.
Sevalnev was assigned to military unit No. 08807 (“LPR”), and took part in combat as part of the 7th motorized rifle company, and when the company commander was killed, he was assigned to be the commander as he had previous combat experience in Chechnya. Sevalnev was soon awarded a medal for leading his company out of encirclement. In November, his unit sustained heavy losses, part of the company was killed, while the rest scattered.
According to Vladimir Osechkin, Sevalnev could have been “executed” for the desertion of his subordinates, as another ex-convict, Yevgeny Nuzhin was “executed” for an interview from Ukrainian captivity.
In mid-November, the telegram channel Grey Zone, linked with the Wagner PMC, published a video in which former mercenary Yevgeny Nuzhin says that he was kidnapped in Kyiv and will now be “tried.” Nuzhin’s head is then smashed with a sledgehammer. The video ends with the inscription “liquidated.”
The Kremlin would not comment on the killing of Nuzhin by the Wagner Group. “It's not our business,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner PMC, publicly endorsed the killing. “I prefer to watch history in the theater. As for the perpetrator, this clearly shows that he didn't find happiness in Ukraine, and met with unkind but fair people. I think this movie is called 'To a Dog, a Dog’s Death.' It's a great directorial work, a breathtaking film. I hope that not a single animal was injured during the production of the film,” Prigozhin was quoted as saying by the press service of his company “Concord.”
Prigozhin denied reports of Sevalnev's murder. “This man has never been in the PMC Wagner ranks, he never arrived to any training camps and has never worked for the PMC,” he said on his Telegram channel in response to a request to comment Sevalnev’s story, originally revealed by the Gulagu.net project.
According to a Defense Ministry spokesman who examined the deceased Sevalnev, the injuries on his body could be the result of a sledgehammer blow. “There was a shrapnel wound on the body, and it hit the head hard, it fractured the skull,” he said.
According to Osechkin, “replicas of the Wagner PMC” from the “LPR” and the “DPR” may be involved in the killing of Sevalnev, while the Russian Defense Ministry is directly responsible for his murder, as well as the murder of Nuzhin. The head of Gulagu.net noted that the military unit No. 08807, to which Sevalnev was assigned, has nothing to do with the Wagner PMC. “His motorized rifle company was made up of both prisoners and mobilized men from the DPR and LPR,” he explained to The Insider.
“Prigozhin is a Herbalife salesman who travels around prisons and talks to the convicts in a language they can understand. In fact, this is purely a contract system between the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Penitentiary Service and the prisoners – they sign these ‘agreements’ with a phony LLC, the papers are also signed by commissioners from the Federal Penitentiary Service and the Defense Ministry, so this whole story is purely the responsibility of Defense Minister Shoigu and Commander-in-Chief Putin, and Prigozhin is here as a smokescreen,” Osechkin believes.
Gulagu.net provided The Insider with photos of the contracts being signed by those recruited to the war. These contracts are not with Prigozhin and his military company, but directly with the Russian Defense Ministry.
Human rights activist Olga Romanova earlier told the We Can Explain (“Mozhem Obyasnit”) media project that she personally knows of 40 cases of recruited convict “executions.” Romanova cited her sources as relatives of the prisoners who had appealed to the human rights organization Russia Behind Bars. “To my knowledge, 40 [executed] people have been more or less confirmed. They call it 'zeroing out’,” the human rights activist said. “And [Prigozhin] won't get anything for it. Any inquiries about the whereabouts of the prisoners are denied due to them being a state secret.”
In mid-September, a video circulated in the media showing Prigozhin recruiting prisoners and warning them about executions. The main “sin,” according to Prigozhin, is desertion: “No one backs down, no one retreats, no one surrenders. When you are trained in surrender, you'll be told about the two grenades you must have with you. <...> Those who arrive on the first day and say 'I must’ve come to the wrong place,' are marked as deserters and end up in front of a firing squad.”
In addition to Nuzhin's “execution,” the fragment of another video depicting the Wagner Group executing a deserter from the Syrian army with a sledgehammer appeared back in 2017. In November 2019, the full version of the video was posted online. In the video, a man who was beaten with a sledgehammer lies on the ground, his head is cut off with a knife, his hands are cut off with a shovel, his body is hung by the legs, doused with gasoline and then burned, accompanied by insulting jokes and laughter. After the full video appeared, Novaya Gazeta managed to identify one of the participants, who turned out to be a member of the Wagner PMC.
Rumors about “executions” of Wagner Group members are probably also used to intimidate relatives and extort money. In late October, the wife of the convict Sergei Serbezov, who was recruited to the war, revealed to The Insider that she received a text message saying that her husband had been shot as a deserter. She and Serbezov's replied to the same number, asking where they could identify and retrieve the body. In response, they were asked for money for information about the burial site and contacts of people who knew about it. When the story appeared in the media, Prigozhin’s RIA FAN news agency published a video of Serbesov alive, assuring his wife that he was okay.
According to a report by analytics firm NewsGuard, close to 160 videos appeared in TikTok during the war, showing or glorifying the acts of violence committed by the Wagner PMC mercenaries. Videos with the Russian-language hashtags “chvk” (“pmc”) or “chvkwagner” (“pmcwagner”) accumulated a total of one billion views. Fourteen videos showed snippets or a full clip of Nuzhin's execution. One such video reached 900,000 views before the social network’s administration deleted it. Upon requesting “Wagner,” the social network algorithms immediately produced videos tagged “Wagner sledgehammer” or “Wagner execution.” Among those videos were clips of the 2017 killing in Syria, one of which was viewed by close to a million people.
Earlier, MEPs from various parties called on the European Union to put the Wagner PMC on its list of terrorist organizations. In response, Prigozhin sent an engraved Wagner PMC sledgehammer covered in fake blood to the European Parliament. Bloomberg reported that the US presidential administration is currently considering the recognition of the Wagner PMC as a foreign terrorist organization. If the decision is made, the US could open criminal cases against the PMC and its members, as well as pursue their assets around the world.