The audio is garbled at times, but the emotions are unmistakable.
“I am being taken to be shot. I lost a lot of people there. Remember this: do not send more people here. It’s enough, they want to kill us all.”
It is the last message Viktor Sevalnev would send. A convict, who had been in jail for armed robbery and assault, he was sent from prison to fight for Russia in Ukraine. After most of his colleagues died in an assault on a factory outside Soledar, it was the act of survival that proved fatal to Sevalnev.
In a last message to his wife, he said he feared officials from the Russian Ministry of Defense would soon take him from his hospital bed, where he recorded the audio message, and execute him. Days later, his body was returned to his wife in Moscow, in a closed coffin.
Sevalnev’s callous fate joins a growing list of complaints of abuse from convicts whom CNN has spoken to. For months, Russia has been using the shadowy private mercenary company Wagner to bolster its frontline presence with prisoners – a scheme at first denied and secretive, but then openly promoted by Wagner’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
However, Sevalnev and several prisoners CNN has spoken to seem to indicate a disturbing new strategy. They say they were directly employed by the Russian Ministry of Defense.