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Russia has begun sending female prisoners to war in Ukraine, Russian NGO claims

The i 14/03/2023 Kieron-monks

Russia is plugging gaps in its invasion force by sending female prisoners to war in Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian military and a Russian human rights group.

“Last week, there was a train with second-class sleeping carriages to transport prisoners to the Donetsk region (in Eastern Ukraine),” said Ukraine’s army general staff on Monday. “One of the carriages was with convicted women.”

Ukraine has made similar claims before. On 4 February, the army reported that 50 women were recruited from a prison in occupied Donetsk “to replenish losses in manpower”.

The claim was corroborated by Moscow-based prisoner rights group Russia Behind Bars.

“(Women) were taken from the colonies of southern Russia,” founder Olga Romanova told Russian investigative news site Important Stories, adding that about 100 female prisoners were recruited to the army.

The terms of recruitment or the women’s roles within the army were not specified. Ms Romanova did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yevgeny Prigozhin has personally recruited prisoners from Russian jails to fight for Wagner (Photo: Telegram) © Provided by The i Yevgeny Prigozhin has personally recruited prisoners from Russian jails to fight for Wagner (Photo: Telegram)

Russia Behind Bars was among the first to report the widespread recruitment of prisoners by mercenary militia, the Wagner Group, before a leaked video in September showed the group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin giving a speech to prisoners promising them freedom in exchange for a six-month term in Ukraine.

Mr Prigozhin subsequently stated that active efforts to recruit female prisoners were ongoing but had not been approved. “We are working in this direction. There is resistance, but we will press on,” he said on Telegram in December, adding that women could be used in “sabotage groups and sniper pairs.”

The warlord has since claimed that Wagner is no longer allowed to recruit from prisons, as relations with Russia’s defence ministry deteriorated. The regular Russian army has also begun to use convict fighters, according to captured soldiers and Russian human rights groups.

Russia Behind Bars has reported astonishingly high casualty rates among prisoner units, which are reportedly used with little regard to their safety. About 80 per cent of the estimated 50,000 convicts recruited were killed, wounded, or fled, the group claimed.

Russia is believed to be exploring options for expanding the invasion force ahead of a critical phase of the war with both sides believed to be planning offensives in spring.

President Vladimir Putin could order another wave of mobilisation, following a draft in September. Russian legislators are also considering a bill to raise the conscription age from 18 to 21, which would have the effect of expanding the range over two transition years.

Activist groups will continue to campaign on behalf of female prisoners, says Sofia – who gives only a first name for security reasons – of the Feminist Anti-war Resistance (FAR) network, which operates in Russia and across the world.

“Female prisoners are one of the most marginalised communities in Russia, so it was just a matter of time before they would be forced to participate in the war,” she told i. “At the moment it is not clear what they are forced to do. Are they going to be fighting on the front line alongside male recruits?”

FAR would seek to raise the profile of the issue through its underground media, the activist said.

The Russian military has not commented.


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