The head of the Russian private military group Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin announced on Saturday that he plans to recruit around 30,000 new fighters by mid-May, according to a voice message posted on Telegram.
Prigozhin also claimed that Wagner recruited around 500 to 800 people on average per day, sometimes as many as 1,200 people per day.
“It is possible that this number of recruits will decrease after a while; however, by mid-May we expect the number of fighters in the unit to increase by around 30,000,” Prigozhin said in an audio message.
Wagner is a mercenary company led by Prigozhin, who has been highly visible on the front lines in recent months – and always quick to claim Russian advances.
The group is renowned for its blunt and brutal tactics and its disregard for the lives of its own soldiers. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling described his tactics in eastern Ukraine as “like feeding meat to a meat grinder”.
Last week, Prigozhin said Wagner had opened recruiting efforts in 42 cities across Russia.
Wagner focused his attention on recruiting mercenaries from sports clubs, boxing gyms and other sports halls, as well as men who have already completed six-month contracts and could be rehired. Wagner also recruited a small number of foreign fighters.
CNN previously reported that Wagner said he stopped recruiting from prisons in January. The prison recruitment drive was well publicized and widespread, bringing as many as 40,000 fighters to Wagner last year.
But many recruits from the private military group were killed or injured in heavy fighting around the town of Bakhmut, the scene of a months-long battle.
The fact that the group is looking for tens of thousands of new fighters suggests that it has suffered significant losses in the conflict.
Earlier this month, Prigozhin acknowledged that the situation in Bakhmut was “difficult, very difficult, with enemies fighting for every yard”.
Although Wagner made further gains around Bakhmut and now held the eastern part of the city, it came at a high cost. Prigozhin appealed for support from Russian regular forces and a more reliable flow of ammunition, but none were received. He accused the Russian Defense Ministry of trying to strangle his forces.
A Ukrainian military intelligence report obtained by CNN detailed the ruthless tactics used by Wagner. The report, dated December 2022, concluded that “the deaths of thousands of Wagner soldiers are of no significance to Russian society.”
In January, a former Wagner mercenary said the brutality he witnessed in Ukraine ultimately drove him to defect, in an exclusive interview with CNN.