The New York TimesThe New York Times

'Very dangerous people': Russia's convict fighters are heading home

By Anatoly Kurmanaev, Alina Lobzina and Ekaterina Bodyagina

30 Jan 2023 · 6 min read

Editor's Note

A Russian mercenary group is exploiting penal colony inmates, sending them to fight in Ukraine in exchange for the promise of freedom. Now, many are returning from the frontlines. The NYT reports.

He was released from a Russian prison and thrown into battle in Ukraine with a promise of freedom, redemption and money. Now, Andrei Yastrebov, who was among tens of thousands of convict soldiers, is part of a return from the battlefield with potentially serious implications for Russian society.

Yastrebov, 22, who had been serving time for theft, returned home a changed man. “We all feel like he is in some sort of hypnosis, like he is a different person,” said a relative of his, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “He is without any emotions.”

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