According to the investigative group Bellingcat, three prominent Russian criminal figures were killed in action in Ukraine. These individuals, Sergei Maksimenko, 59, Andrey Berezhnykh, 55, and Igor Kusk, 55, had been recruited by the Wagner Private Military Company while serving time in penal colonies.
In 2013, Andrei Berezhnykh was sentenced to 25 years in prison by Russia's Supreme Court for various crimes, including murder, committed while he led a gang in the Saratov region between 1994 and 2011. He had previously stood trial in Saratov for attempting to murder ten individuals.
Berezhnykh formed his gang in Balakovo, a town located approximately 150 kilometers from the regional center of Saratov, during the mid-1990s. The group, which was active for nearly 20 years, was formed by Berezhnykh as a means of avenging the murder of his boss, whom he considered a close friend.
As Berezhnykh recalled, new members soon joined the gang and the OCG entered into the arms trade. On October 6, 1994, Berezhnykh and a colleague, Andrei Kurpach, used semi-automatic rifles to attack and kill three young men leaving a gym. Over the years, Berezhnykh's gang carried out numerous other murders and attempted murders, targeting local business owners among others.
In 2003, Berezhnykh's criminal group admitted to attacking the Saratov-based STV television company with an RPG-26 grenade launcher. A Telegram channel dedicated to Russia's underworld reported that Berezhnykh was killed in a battle in Ukraine on December 8, 2022, a month after he was recruited by the Wagner PMC. A month later, a memorial service was held in his honor at Balakovo's Holy Trinity Cathedral during Christmas.
Sergei Maksimenko had a 25-year prison sentence in the Republic of Mordovia under his belt prior to joining the Wagner PMCs. Media reports suggest he joined the mercenary group in September 2022. Maksimenko was the leader of the criminal organization, Olimpia, which was based in Penza and operated in the spheres of prostitution, extortion, and murder from the 1990s to the 2000s.
Maksimenko took the reins of the Olimpia group in 1997, becoming involved in loan-sharking and racketeering. During the early 2000s, the organization carried out multiple murders, mostly targeting local business owners and rival gang leaders. One notable instance was the attack on seven individuals and their wives in a local bar in 2003, carried out with baseball bats and hunting rifles.
Maksimenko, like Andrei Berezhnykh, was killed in December 2022.
Igor Kusk had been serving a 23-year prison sentence in Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi Republic, when he was approached by recruiters for the Wagner PMC. Kusk, a veteran of the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan, had expressed a desire to go to Ukraine before the PMC recruiters arrived. According to his wife, he had even attempted to join the Kadyrovites and go to the front with them.
According to his 2015 verdict Kusk established his criminal group, the Kuskovites, in Tatarstan in 1998. The group was active in Nizhnekamsk and the major regional center of Kazan. The Kuskovites were notable for having many veterans of the Afghan war in their ranks.
The Kuskovskys began with low-profile crimes and contract killings in the late 1990s. According to court documents, their first known murder in 1998 was the contract killing of a local electrician, who was shot dead outside his home on the morning of December 30.
By 2004, Kusk and his group were implicated in the murders of two general directors of the Kazan-based construction company Tatsantekhmontazh, which employed more than 1,000 people at its peak. The construction company had ties to the criminal group, and the two murders, according to the Russian prosecutor's office, were linked to the general directors' attempts to distance themselves from the Kuskovites.
One of the general directors, Vasily Luzganov, was murdered in 2001 after firing a high-ranking employee involved in a procurement scam. Boris Vaiman, the other general director, was killed by the Kuskovites for “conducting business contrary to the guidelines” of the criminal group.
While the funerals of Berezhnykh and Maksimenko were quite modest, Kusk's funeral was a significant event, with more than 700 attendees and a procession of 100 cars, according to media reports.