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Russia’s Secret Recruits Allegedly Abandoned, Starved and Missing

Photo illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty

ABUJA, Nigeria — Russia’s infamous Wagner Group has abandoned dozens of former Central African Republic (CAR) rebels in Ukraine’s Donbass region after recruiting them to fight in Vladimir Putin’s war, two CAR veterans have told The Daily Beast .

The Central African sources, who were recruited by Wagner after leaving the Union for Peace (UPC) rebel group last December, said many of the roughly 100 ex-UPC fighters currently in Ukraine have lost contact with Wagner after the group trained them and flew them. in the Donbass region about eight months ago.

“Some of our colleagues have called us [on the phone] to inform us that the Russian soldiers who took them to eastern Ukraine deployed them to a particular town and left them to fight alone,” said Ali, who was not part of the group sent to Ukraine, at the Daily Beast. “As we speak, they haven’t been paid for months and they can’t even feed themselves.” (The Daily Beast changed the names of Black Russians in the story to protect them from possible reprisals.)

Some former UPC recruits, often referred to as “black Russians” by many in the CAR, now have to “steal from civilians” in order to survive the hardships in Ukraine, according to Ali.

In February, the same month Russia invaded Ukraine, more than 200 former UPC rebels traveled to Moscow for military training that was originally expected to last for weeks at a Wagner camp, senior military officials say. Central Africans who spoke to The Daily Beast in March. Only half returned to the country that month while the rest remained in Russia for deployment in Ukraine.

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“In mid-March, everyone [the Black Russians] were in eastern Ukraine fighting for Russia,” said Hassan, who – like Ali – was not among the black Russians sent to Ukraine but was in contact with some of his colleagues there, said at the Daily Beast. “But our people now say they were left to their own devices by their [Russian] commanders. Nobody takes care of them. »

The situation is “terrible” for black Russians in Ukraine, according to Hassan, who said he spoke to three of his colleagues in November and they are all in fear for their lives. “They told me they didn’t even have ammunition to fight,” Hassan said. “Some of them haven’t been seen by their colleagues for months.”

Before joining Wagner, the rebels were part of a coalition of fighters from major rebel groups created in 2020 to disrupt a Central African general election.

Last December, hundreds of UPC rebels, whose leader Ali Darassa was sanctioned about a year ago by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), began marching into the Central African government. The government and the Wagner Group offered inducements to the rebels to abandon the UPC, including promising that the fighters would work closely with CAR troops and Wagner’s mercenaries to fight other rebels. Fighters like Ali and Hassan, both in their thirties, switched sides, hoping they would be treated well. But, like their colleagues currently in Ukraine, they are not faring much better at home.

For most of the year, black Russians received no salaries from Wagner or the Central African government, which promised to pay them monthly allowances, according to Ali and Hassan. Yet they continue to work closely with Wagner in the fight against rebel groups in the country who have come together under the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) and seek to overthrow the government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

“It’s very difficult to work with the Russians because they don’t trust any of us,” Hassan said. “Often they take us around the country with them without telling us exactly where we are going.”

But what bothers Ali and Hassan most is the fact that dozens of their colleagues in the CAR have been disappearing in recent months without a trace.

“For two months now, up to 50 of our colleagues have mysteriously disappeared,” Ali said. “Nobody knows where they are and the Russians don’t answer questions about their whereabouts.”

RCA’s Black Russians suspect their missing colleagues may have been sent to Ukraine to fight for Russia, but “no one is sure”, according to Ali.

“There are also a few people who suspect that they may have been sent on dangerous missions in their country or abroad and killed in the process,” Ali said. “No one may ever know the truth because these Russians are doing everything in secret.”

Lest they too disappear, Ali and Hassan last week decided to walk away from Wagner. They are not the only ones. According to the two men, up to 30 former UPC rebels have recently left the group. A local publication even put the number of black Russians who have parted ways with Wagner at 40.

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Neither the Central African government nor Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close friend of Putin who heads the Wagner Group, responded to emails sent to them by The Daily Beast seeking comment on the allegations made by Ali and Hassan. Emails sent to the CAR government spokesperson and to Concord Management, a company majority-owned by Prigozhin, went unanswered.

A significant number of black Russians continue to work with the Wagner group despite allegations of mistreatment and mysterious disappearances. But for those tired of the excesses of organization, there’s no better time to say goodbye.

“If we didn’t leave, one day people would also say that we disappeared,” Hassan said. “With these Russians, anything is possible.”

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