The head of the Russian paramilitary company Yevgeny Prigozhin told CNN Thursday that he has handed the body of a retired US Army Special Forces soldier who was killed in the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut over to Ukraine.
In a response to CNN asking if Wagner had returned the body of Retired Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas Maimer as promised by Prigozhin last week, Prigozhin said in an audio recording: “Today at 1500 hours we handed over the body of the American Nicholas Maimer to the Ukrainian side.”
In a video shared with CNN by Prigozhin’s press service, the Wagner boss stands next to two coffins, one draped with an American flag and one with a Turkish flag, and says: “The American died in battle in the ‘nest’” — one of the last contested areas in west Bakhmut — and added that the second coffin contained the body of a Turkish citizen who was in Bakhmut with his female partner.
“They were found under the ruins of a building, or more accurately he and his documents. When the Ukrainians withdrew they blew up the building, and they died under the destroyed building. We weren’t able to get her out, but we got him out and will return to his motherland,” Prigozhin says of the Turkish citizens.
CNN cannot independently verify the location in the video or the date it was filmed.
Ukraine’s Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War confirmed to CNN that Maimer’s body, along with the body of a Turkish citizen, had been returned to Ukraine on Thursday during a POW exchange. A video shared by the group showed a coffin covered with an American flag which matched the coffin seen in the video with Prigozhin.
CNN is unable to independently confirm that the coffin contains Maimer’s body, or the circumstances in which he died.
Maimer’s decades in uniform: According to Maimer’s service record provided to CNN, he served more than 20 years in uniform before retiring in 2018, according to his service record provided to CNN.
He served more than two years in the active-duty Army, leaving in December 1998; he then joined the National Guard in November 2000, and served about 18 years between three different Guard units before retiring in December 2018.
Among his awards and decorations are the Special Forces Tab, Army Commendation Medal and four Army Achievement Medals.
His uncle Paul Maimer told the Idaho Statesman his nephew had gone to Ukraine “as a humanitarian trying to do good for this world” and that the family wanted to bring him home for a “proper burial.”
“I think he’s deserving to be put to rest in a veterans cemetery,” he told the Statesman. “He might not have been fighting for our country, but he was fighting for the right reasons.”
CNN’s Josh Pennington, Sandi Sidhu, Jennifer Hansler, Haley Britzky and Alex Marquardt contributed to this post.