Two Moldovan nationals serving prison terms in Russia were recruited last year by the Wagner mercenary group and sent to fight in Ukraine.

One of them still had relatives in the country Russia has attacked while the other had spent his childhood in an orphanage there, following his kidnapping by his Ukrainian father.

When the Wagner recruitment campaign began, Ion was expecting to be released in a year, and Vlad still had to wait two years before getting free.

Now, their names are written on wooden crosses in a cemetery with hundreds of graves, set up by the Wagner on the outskirts of the village of Bakinskaya in the Krasnodar region of the Russian Federation.

The founder of this private army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who recently marched with his troops to Moscow in a failed coup, confirmed that the cemetery had been established by his company.

We identified the two Moldovans thanks to the Reuters, which investigated the fate of several inmates from Russia who ended up in Bakinskaya’s cemetery. In addition to documents and testimonies from families, we’ve received confirmation to our findings straight from the Wagner organization. Relatives of the two Moldovan inmates are convinced that the two didn’t go to war willingly.

The dates on the crosses indicate that the men died sometime between early August and the end of October 2022, at the height of fighting for the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut.

621 citizens of the Republic of Moldova are currently behind bars in Russia.

Ilustrație: Art of Alex Buretz


After more than a decade since leaving home, a Moldovan man sentenced to prison in Russia sends a letter to his family:

„Mother, I don’t even know where to begin writing. Please, forgive me if you can. I am not guilty of what happened. […] Please help me if you can! They accuse me of killing my concubine. Unintentional manslaughter. 15 years in prison. Strict regime. I need money for a lawyer – 30,000 rubles (about 727 euros, at the exchange rate back then).”

He wrote this letter in early 2012. Ion* was 41 years old at the time and had been in prison for almost two months.

It was the last time Ion, one of the two Moldovans whose name we found on a cross, contacted his family in Moldova.

Twelve years have passed since his family last saw him. They received news from him a few times after he departed to Russia for work in 2000.

Years of silence followed and his mother wondered if she should offer prayers for him: „I don’t even know if he’s alive or dead. Should I pray for his soul or not?”

In the letter demonstrating that after all he was alive during all those years, Ion said he had given all his savings from the past two years to his lawyer:

„Here, I have no one to borrow money from. Those you know turned their backs on me. Mother, please, don’t leave me even for a minute! Please, help me! I know it’s tough for all of you. I understand that, but it’s still much harder for me.”

In order to help Ion with the necessary sum, his brother, who was working in construction in Moscow at the time for 150-200 dollars a month, needed half a year to gather the money. „30,000, that’s a lot of money. Back then, 30,000 was a thousand dollars.”

Their mother could barely survive on her pension. So, the brother replied in a letter that he couldn’t send that much money, but the situation needed to be clarified. „After that, I didn’t receive any more letters, and I didn’t know anything about him.”

Back in 2012, four months after sending the letter, Ion was finally sentenced to prison. He was charged of deliberately hitting his partner at least ten times, in the face, chest, and stomach. The blows followed a heating argument with the woman during a drunk rage. With severe internal bleeding, the woman died from injuries shortly after the fight. 

Ion did admit to “hitting her a few times” but didn’t believe the beating caused her death. During his first interrogation, he told investigators that having consumed several drinks he lay down in bed for a snap while the concubine bothered him for money to buy more alcohol. This infuriated him and he punched her with his fists and “maybe with his feet,” given that he couldn’t remember exactly what happened. Ion then placed the weakened woman in bed. Sometime later, according to his version, she went out to the balcony, to take some fresh air. When Ion woke up, he found her unconscious at the balcony door and dragged the woman back on the bed, covering her with a blanket. In the morning, when he approached her again, the woman was lifeless.

Forensic examination showed a direct link between the injuries and the woman’s death.

The police later learned that there had been multiple conflicts because of violent conduct by Ion during the two years they lived together, and witnesses confirmed the facts. The woman had thrown him out of her apartment several times and reported his behavior to the police.

A psychiatric examination found no signs of mental disorder with Ion. Not even during the time he assaulted his partner. He was in a sane state, though very well drunk, according to court papers. There were no signs of delirium or hallucinations, because he remembered what had happened. The judge noted that Ion changed later his testimonies in his favor.

In summary, the defendant denied in the court that his blows were the cause of the woman’s death, suggesting that the victim “probably left the house while I was sleeping and got beaten more severely by someone else.”

He changed his original statements since he first showed how the event degenerated at the crime scene. Explaining the radical change in his defense, he told the judge the voice on the video recording was not his and that the police had used psychological pressure and physical force to obtained his self-incriminating confession.

Ultimately, the court established that Ion had always been interrogated in the presence of his lawyer, ruling out any psychological or physical stress from the police, and finally found him guilty of unintentional manslaughter.

The court also mentioned that Ion had no prior convictions but was previously detained in police custody for five days for appearing drugged in public space, just a few months before taking the life of his partner. Details HERE. 

He was sentenced to 9 years in a high-security penitentiary. Details HERE


His mother is now almost 80 years old. She lost her sight four years ago, speaks slowly, and no longer leaves the house. That’s why Ion’s youngest brother was the one who told us details about his life.

He vividly remembers the frequent conflicts between their parents that left deep scars in the family: „Dad once came [home] and beat up Mom, then and took [Ion] with him. Mom, with her teeth clenched, filed a complaint with the police and later found the boy and brought him back home. Dad took Ion in order to avoid paying for child support.”

Ion was almost 4 years old when his father took him to an orphanage in Ukraine, the country where he would fight as a Wagner soldier, decades later.

His mother found him at the orphanage about a month later.

Then, after another eight years, she went with her children to look for their father in Chita, a region in Siberia. Their father was already working there and wanted to reunite the family, but things didn’t go as planned, according to Ion’s younger brother. He shows us one of a few photos of Ion.

Days after asking them to visit him for reunion, their father disappeared. They couldn’t find him and returned to Moldova with 100 rubles the woman borrowed from someone. Later on, their father was found in the village where they were struggling to build a house, somewhere in northern Moldova, the mother’s hometown.

And violence reignited.

„He approached Mom and slapped her twice. Mom stood and looked at him: 

– ‘What for? 

– Why did you come and abandon us there? 

– What, are you crazy? It’s you who asked us to come but were gone, leaving me with three children. You disappeared. What am I supposed to do with three children? Who will provide food for us?’ 

The man then tried to attack his mother, but she stabbed him in the stomach with a kitchen knife.”

The father survived, and after other violent episodes, the mother terminated their relationship for good. It wasn’t long before she took her youngest child with her in Kim, a village in the Komi republic in northern Russia, where woodcutters from Moldova and other Soviet republics worked and lived. There she worked in the woods with her brother. 

Ion stayed with his grandmother at home until he finished school in the 8th or 9th grade,” the story goes. 

Ilustrație: Art of Alex Buretz

He didn’t want to continue his education. Instead, he was determined to earn his own money and so traveled to his mother in Kim. There, he swept the leftovers from under the wood-cutting machine, filling up wagons. He worked from 6 pm until 6 am.

„And he was paid very well. About 200 rubles. At that time, it was a big deal of money. Our mother earned only 65 rubles as a cleaner in the dormitory,” Ion’s younger brother recalled. 

In 1988, Ion got recruited in the army and served for two years in Russia. He was 18 years old. „His unit was stationed near Moscow. In the summer, they worked in the Crimea. During winter time, they were taken back to Moscow for military service,” his brother said.

After the military service, he married a woman from his native village, and they had two sons. They divorced six years later. Ion got addicted to alcohol and used to physically abuse his wife: „He would get angry and beat her up, because she [his ex-wife] had a big mouth. But she would go to the police, which locked him for 4 or 5 nights in a Rezina penitentiary.”

When he left for Russia in 2000, Ion was already 30 years old, and owned a hectare of land from which he managed to pay child support.

But he only stayed there for a few weeks, during which he worked at the national railways company. Then he went to say goodbye to his brother, who was also in Moscow. „I’m leaving. – Where are you going? – I’m going north, where I used to live. – Are you crazy?’ But he said, ‘I have nothing to lose. I have no family, no children. I’m lonely, and I’m going alone. If something pops up, you know I’ll be there.”

The two brothers have not seen each other ever since.

Ion passed away 23 years later in Ukraine and was buried in a Russian village.

The cross on which the dates of Ion are written from the Bakinskaya cemetery.


Ion was supposed to be freed in 2021. But in 2019, he was tried again. Details HEREHe was charged with engaging into a row with a public official during a disciplinary hearing at the prison, arguing about the period of imprisonment, and then he threatened to beat up a guard who tried to calm him down. Due to multiple offenses, Ion received an additional sentence of 2 years, 2 months, and 11 days, court papers show.

So, in the summer of 2022, when Wagner, a Russian private mercenary company, began recruiting from prisons, Ion was expected to spend one more year behind bars. His last lawyer refused to comment on the case or whether Ion voluntarily joined Wagner.

We spoke with his brother and the latter’s wife and showed them the latest court verdict regarding his additional two-year term in prison. When the two learned that Ion had been recruited by the Wagner, silence fell upon them.

The silence was broken by the woman, Ion’s sister-in-law:

„There’s no way someone coming back from there [Wagner], isn’t it?” 

„No!” her husband replied. 

„But where will he be then?” 

„Either the Ukrainians will kill him, or the Russians will kill him. There’s no escape there. Wagner was made by a convict. A friend of Putin’s. An inmate. The whole internet is buzzing about Wagner. And they probably warned him there: ‘If you don’t want to stay here [in prison], let’s go there for killing. Anyway, you’re a piece of meat, you’re nobody.’ So instead of remaining confined to four walls, he decided to get out and kill people…”

We identified Ion thanks to the information on the cross, court verdicts stating his Moldovan origins, and testimonies by his relatives confirming his past.

However, after seeing dozens of posts during our research on Telegram channels showing disfigured and burned individuals who got killed in the war, which sometimes made identification impossible, we wanted to make sure, from other official sources, that Ion was no longer behind bars and that he had indeed fought for the Wagner group.

With the help of his brother, we sent inquiries to the prison where Ion was last held and to other institutions in Russia, asking whether he was still in prison or had been recruited and sent to war.

The Penitentiary Administration of the Republic of Komi, where Ion was last detained, replied that Ion was no longer in prison and was not serving his sentence anywhere else. However, it refused to release other sort of personal information on the ground that the former inmate had not given his consent for that.

On the other hand, the Penitentiary Administration of Russia confirmed that Ion was released from prison in July 2022 through a presidential amnesty order issued by Vladimir Putin. Details HERE. 

The route of prisoners who were granted amnesty by the president before being sent to the front in Ukraine was confirmed in several interviews by former Russian convicts who, too, got recruited by the Wagner but escaped from their training camps.

And that’s how we’ve come to the Wagner.

The Beginning of Recruitment
The first reports about the recruitment of convicts into the Wagner emerged on 2 July 2022. The same month, the first four Wagner fighters, enlisted from prisons, were killed in action and were buried in a cemetery in Bakinskaya, a village in Krasnodar, Russia, where the graves of the two Moldovans are also located.
At the beginning of August, another convict who accepted to join the Wagner anonymously admitted to Mediazona, an independent outlet, that inmates were promised amnesty in exchange for a six-month service in Ukraine, along with a monthly salary of 100,000 rubles and a bonus of 100,000 rubles. Other convicts spoke of rewards going up to 200,000 rubles.
The Wagner founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, repeatedly admitted on his Telegram channel to enlisting convicts from Russian prisons in return for their freedom.
If they were to be injured, lose a hand or a leg, they were promised to be hospitalized for six months, and discharged with full amnesty. If they were killed, the Wagner would pay 5 million rubles in compensations to their families. On the other hand, the Wagner would waste any fighter caught stealing, or using drugs or alcohol.
Convicts were taken to camps and trained for two weeks before being sent to the Ukrainian front in the second line. They would advance to the first line after another two weeks.
Another convict enlisted by Wagner, who managed to escape during a Ukrainian attack on the camp, recounted to Mediazona that the units were led by inmates who had never took part in a combat. 

Wagner’s Curtain

The mercenary group has an official Telegram channel called „Prigozhin’s Press Service.” This channel is responsible for information requests and claims to be the sole source that represents the official position of the group’s leader.

The Prigozhin press service responded within days by providing several contact numbers for the „Wagner Hotline” – another channel where families can learn which Wagner fighters are still alive or lost their lives.

We received a response a few minutes after sending a message, stating that any information about their collaborators is confidential. However, we were assured that if Ion’s relatives have not been contacted, they have no reason to worry:

„If you are worried about whether he is alive, then he is alive. Otherwise, a special service will get in touch with the designated persons (…) Fighters sometimes have no signal for 2-3 months. This is normal. Sometimes, they do not wish to contact their relatives. We respect their wish.

They also attached a written response from Prigozhin to a mother looking for her son within the penitentiary system for three months. The woman wanted to find out if he had been recruited and how she could get in touch with him.

Mr. Prigozhin said in reply that he no longer wished to be bothered with such inquiries, because all “volunteers” had the option to get in touch with their families and provide information that is not classified as war secrets. He gave an example of what they could say: „Everything is fine with me. Don’t worry about me. I had a little cold, but now everything is fine. Or, I’m in the hospital. I’ll tell you the rest when we meet.”

According to the message, fighters – especially former inmates – would rarely accept a conversation with their families, simply because they did not receive much attention from them while in prison: „And now, when these people with their heroism deserve our society’s respect and receive material rewards, their relatives’ attempts to get in touch sometimes seems to them too intrusive. That’s why we assure you that if they are interested in talking to their families, they have that possibility.”


We were instructed to dial other phone numbers, but also warned that we’ll receive information only if our names were indicated as the liaison persons for the fighter at the time he signed up for the Wagner. 

The final response confirmed that Ion died on 12 August 2022, which was the same date written on the cross. Ion passed away about a month after being granted amnesty and released from prison.

„Our condolences. He didn’t indicate anyone in his will, which is why the company buried him in Krasnodar, the village of Bakinskaya. He said that he was an orphan,” someone replied via the chat window.

His brother doesn’t believe that Ion could have described himself as an orphan: „He might have written that he had a mother, or brothers.” Nor does he believe that Ion would have enlisted voluntarily: „If he had one more year to serve, couldn’t he wait for one more year? And then he could be free and ready to go back home, to Moldova… They must have forced him. They probably thought: ‘Why should we feed you… Go fight.”

From the final response, it appears that Ion was killed in the city of Artyomovsk, which was the Soviet name for the city of Bakhmut. The city became globally known as the place where Wagner troops fought bloody battles with Ukrainian forces.

The Wagner Hotline also informed us that we could obtain a death certificate, which would mention the cause of death, from the Public Services Agency of Russia, only after 1 June.

Yet, the death certificate has not been found in the official archives after that date, according to a message from the local authorities in Krasnodar, the region of Ion’s resting place. 


Speaking about the fact that most of the names in researched cemeteries do not exist in the Russian official database of deceased persons, Vitaly Votanovsky, a Russian activist in Krasnodar who began gathering evidence about local war cemeteries in May 2022 in order to keep a record of names of those killed in the war, explains:

„I only know of four cases when relatives were informed about the burial of someone close in Bakinskaya. In an empire of lies, there can be no reliable lists.”

Mr. Prigozhin, too, confirmed the slow progress of death certificates issuance for his men. In a message posed on the Telegram earlier this year, he blamed the morgue administration in Luhansk, claiming they only issue 3-4 certificates per month. „For many of them, a fallen soldier is a soulless object in a plastic bag.”

Those killed in combat cannot be buried or decorated posthumously unless they are officially declared dead. „So, bureaucracy is the core problem. Bureaucracy not only kills the living but also profanes the memory of the dead.” Mr. Prigozhin emphasized, without specifying whether the relatives of the deceased are still entitled to receive the 5-million-ruble compensation in the absence of a death certificate from the Russian authorities.

Vitaly Votanovsky was the first person to publish information about the cemeteries where Wagner mercenaries killed in Ukraine are buried, on his channel „Titushki v Krasnodare.”

Votanovsky arrived at the Bakinskaya cemetery in December, learning from workers that it was the final place for Wagner fighters. „On 20 December 2022, I discovered the first mass burial,” Votanovsky stated. By that time, there were 48 graves.

According to data from the crosses in the cemetery, in August, besides Ion, eight more ex-convicts lost their lives. In September, the number of deaths climbed to 12, and in October, when the second Moldovan got killed, another 44 Wagner members were buried in Bakinskaya.

By April, when Votanovsky left Russia due to threats to his life, the number of deaths he recorded at that cemetery rose to over 600, becoming, according to multiple sources, the largest Wagner cemetery in Russia.

In December 2022, Prigozhin confirmed that this cemetery was established by his organization, which arranged it after receiving land from the Krasnodar regional administration.

Timeline Wagner: from the battles in Ukraine to the march towards Moscow


The names of Ion and Vlad, the second Moldovan casualty, were found in the first list discovered by Mr. Votanovsky.

Vlad would have died on October 2, 2022, according to information on the cross at his grave. He was 32 years old, and almost half of his life he had spent in Russian prisons. „Since he went to Russia, he never revisited Moldova,” says one of his brothers.

Although the Wagner used to run an official press service for inquiries from relatives and media even before the war, after 24 February 2022, dozens of Wagner-associated channels have emerged. One of these, Wagner Gruz 200, which posts casualty reports, announced Vlad’s death – confirming thus the findings of Mr. Votanovsky.

Wagner Gruz 200, a Telegram channel associated with Wagner, announced that it was celebrating its 5th anniversary. It then admitted that more than 300 mercenaries were killed as a result of a US attack in Syria in February 2018, of which 81 were Wagner fighters.
Two Moldovan nationals were among the victims: Apostol and Donciu, whose stories RISE Moldova covered in 2021. At that time, we obtained access to the most comprehensive database to date about Wagner members, including identification details of about 4,184 mercenaries, of whom nine were from Moldova.

Vlad was born in a family with seven children and was the oldest among them. His departure to work abroad was regarded as a salvation for a family with a mother raising the kids and a father working on farmland.

One of Vlad’s middle school teachers remembers him as a shy schoolboy: „He was quiet, and some colleagues often teased him. He didn’t really like studying, and rarely did his homework.”

The issue, however, was not that he disliked school, but sometimes he couldn’t attend it, explained one of his younger brothers, who is currently working in Poland. „The rest of us went to work, but we also went to school. He didn’t have that opportunity.”

As the eldest son, Vlad was taken by his parents to help with work.

„It was tough. They would go to work for landlords. Or he helped do something around the house. […] How could he like school while there were problems in the family?” his brother notes.

The cross on which the dates of Vlad are written from the Bakinskaya cemetery.


Vlad went to Russia with his father in 2005 or around this year, shortly after graduating from the local middle school. Then, his father suddenly disappeared. Vlad’s mother says that she raised their seven children mostly all alone.

When their father started drinking and vanished from the family’s life, cash became scarce, says Vlad’s brother in Poland. Both Vlad and one of his brothers traveled to Russia for work and tried to help the family as much as they could.

Since arriving in Moscow, Vlad received five convictions and spent a total of 14 years behind bars.

In February 2010, he was charged with stealing a phone worth 5,000 rubles after borrowing it from the owner to make a call. Details HEREHe then left a store with an MP3 player, headphones, and a USB cable worth 1,700 rubles, but security guards caught him. Vlad admitted his guilt and was sentenced to two years in a high-security prison for both offenses.

He was also sentenced to one year and two months for another theft. In 2013, just 20 days after his release, he got busted again. This time, he was filmed by surveillance cameras stealing two bicycles near a residential building. Vlad admitted again his guilt and compensated one of the victims. He spent the following 2 years and 6 months in a high-security prison. Details HERE

When Vlad was released in 2016, he broke into an apartment and stole a Philip Laurence watch worth 24,000 rubles, as well as the keys to a BMW X6 car. He ran away driving the car and was soon apprehended by the police, showing them a fake passport under a different name.

Considering Vlad’s health issues – gastric ulcer and loss of vision in his left eye – the court sentenced him to three and a half years in prison, despite being a repeat offender.

In 2019, shortly after his release, Vlad was caught again, this time for stealing a bank card and a car. He was sentenced to five years in a strict correctional camp. Details HERE

When Wagner representatives arrived last year to recruit from prisons, Vlad still had two years left to serve. Bearing in mind that he had relatives in Ukraine and eyesight problems, he wasn’t exactly what the mercenaries were looking for. 

Vlad’s uncle from his mother’s bloodline lived with his family in the Kiev region for many years. Although they lost contact and hadn’t spoken for nearly a decade, Vlad’s mother is convinced that he would never go to fight against his family in Ukraine unless being forced:

„If they pressured or forced him, Serioja would not agree, he would stand firm not to go. I know my child. No matter how wrong he may be… Serioja would die in order to keep the ground. So, I guarantee he is not in Ukraine.”

Despite her belief, Vlad ended up on the frontline.

Ilustrație: Art of Alex Buretz

The connection between Vlad and his family was gone since he arrived in Russia and spent more time in prison than at large. His relatives’ recollections about the period of his departure and his experience as an offender become brief, confusing, and sometimes contradict each other.

Two months ago, we traveled to northern Moldova to speak to a few remaining members of Vlad’s family. His mother lives alone in a house in the center of a village counting about 500 residents.

We tried to talk to her on the phone before, letting her know that Vlad had joined the mercenary army and went to war, but she refused to meet or to speak in person. When we finally met anyway, she asked to trust her being a good mother. However, topics about her eldest son proved very sensitive to her.

Still, she chatted with us in front of a red-tiled roofing gate for half an hour. She recalled that Vlad sent her his last letter from prison in March or April 2022: „He said that in about two weeks, he would be free. Not that someone told him so, but that’s how it was supposed to be.”

She also mentioned that Vlad was working at a prison enterprise, but she didn’t know what exactly he was doing: „He was allowed to work, checking in to the prison in the evening. …He rarely spoke to me. And if he did, and I started scolding him, he would just hang up the phone and that’s it.”

According to Vlad’s mother, the fact that he hasn’t contacted them doesn’t necessarily mean he enlisted, as he rarely used to call anyway. She believes that he might be working or having fun and simply doesn’t feel the need to call: „He can work, have fun, and not call me. That’s just how it can be. You know how a child calls when he needs something, but if he’s doing well… he wouldn’t bother.”

When we still didn’t have the official confirmation of Vlad’s death, his brother, who had already obtained Russian citizenship, was still troubled by his actions: „Did he dabble in stealing in the village or something?… I mean, there’s no person who has enough money. You always must be looking for a way out, not just go and steal. You have to work, not steal.”

He further revealed that he last spoke to Vlad in 2010. He was trying to find a job for him, but Vlad continued stealing and wrecking his life: „And they did the right thing by locking him up. Everyone should be held accountable for their actions… You reap what you sow.”

Vlad’s younger brother, who works in Poland, says he last saw Vlad in 2012, in Moscow. At that time, Vlad was a free man. He doesn’t even remember when they last spoke. He only recalls that he wrote to Vlad on social media but got blocked by his elder brother. 

He remembers that Vlad ended up in the hospital after a row and repeatedly asked for money from home. „Suddenly, we were helping him, sending money over there, and then he sent money to our mother a couple of times. That might have been about a year or two ago, I’m not sure.”

A sister in Moldova, who lives in a neighboring village, told us in a brief conversation in front of her house that Vlad had contacted her several times to ask for money: „He badly needed money because he was in prison at that time. But how could we send him money?”

The brother in Poland was the one who first wrote to the Wagner Hotline. Initially, the response was that he wasn’t among the trustees Vlad had mentioned as his contact persons. Later, however, the Wagner said Vlad died on 2 October 2022 of a wound in the chest.

He informed their mother a few hours later. „She didn’t believe it and started crying… She felt very bad.” Then, he told the rest of the family.

He continued writing to the Hotline, asking why his brother was at war, considering that he was a Moldovan subject, and how they could be sure that he had volunteered to fight. The company replied that Vlad had signed the contract without being obligated by anyone.

Yet, brother doesn’t believe that Vlad willingly signed any contract: „He always told our mother that he regretted this mistake and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible because they were mistreating him. He seemed weak and frail, as if he hardly ate anything.”

Other inmates have anonymously claimed about being forced to sign agreements with the Wagner.

Both Ion and Vlad gave no references as their emergency contacts, and the company chose to bury Vlad in the same Bakinskaya cemetery.

Ion’s brother does not want to tell their 80-year-old mother about the death of her son: „I’m afraid she’ll start crying day and night, she already has high blood pressure, and I don’t want to upset her even worse.”
In Poland, Vlad’s brother has also started documenting his brother’s death, trying to find out how he ended up in Ukraine: „My mother feels very bad. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone. She’s crying all the time.”

In February 2023, when Prigozhin halted the Wagner recruitment campaign, he emphasized that nobody was forced to join: „Everyone understands how much their freedom costs. It’s a whole life that could be interrupted at any moment, any day.”

As of now, there is no response from the Russian authorities regarding whether Ion and Vlad joined the Wagner on their free will or were forced to do so, nor is there any information about whether their relatives in Russia have received compensations for their sacrifices.

There is no statistics about the number of Moldovan convicts who joined the Wagner company or went to war in Ukraine. However, during this investigation, we learned the name of a third Moldovan inmate enrolled in the Wagner and killed in Ukraine. He was buried in a different cemetery than the other two.

The Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration explained that the authorities were unable to intervene in the recruitment of convicts with Moldovan roots; it’s up to them to request the Russian Ministry of Justice to be transferred back to Moldova. Details HERE

In 2004, Moldova ratified the European Convention on Convicts Transfer, providing the possibility for Moldovan prisoners, including those in Russia, to be transferred back to their home country to serve their sentence.

The Moldovan Presidential Administration has not yet replied to our request for details about the diplomatic and political measures Moldova could use to support its citizens serving prison terms in other countries.

We asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration (MAEIE) and the Ministry of Justice of Moldova to share statistical data about Moldovans who’ve been convicted and jailed in Russia. The MAEIE passed our request onto the Moldovan Embassy in Moscow and was still awaiting a response. Details HERE

The Moldovan Ministry of Justice said it has passed our request further on, with no response being received yet.

Ilustrație: Art of Alex Buretz

The institution nonetheless obtained the number of Moldovan inmates in Russia who have requested to be transferred to Moldova to spend the rest of their sentences here. Since the beginning of 2023, the Ministry of Justice has received 22 transfer requests, and two individuals have already arrived in Moldova to continue serving their terms.

Another two Moldovans have fully served their terms in Russia and are free men now. „Seven more individuals are expected to be transferred in the near future. Eleven Moldovans who are convicted in Russia have applied for transfer and are awaiting a decision in this regard,” the Ministry of Justice specified.

We have also requested information about the total number of Moldovan nationals who have been convicted in Russia from the Moldovan Embassy in Moscow, as well as from the Russian Ministry of Justice, but we have not received any response until the date of publication of this article.

On the very day the story was published, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration passed over a response from Russia: as many as 621 Moldovan nationals are held in Russian prisons at present. Of this number, 166 are in preliminary detention facilities awaiting trial, and 455 have been serving various sentences in penitentiary institutions.

*  The names of the Moldovan detainees are changed in the text. The mother of the first Moldovan does not yet know about her son’s fate. The family would like to spare her from suffering due to her poor health, but there is a risk that she will find out from media reports. In the second case, although the family knows what happened, publicly revealing the name could inflict new trauma onto relatives and potentially blame the family for encouraging a member to join the Wagner or participate in the war.

Autor: Liliana BOTNARIUC

Au contribuit: Fredrik LAURIN, Per Anders JOHANSEN

Editare: Daniel BOJIN 

Grafică: Roman FILIPPOV

Fact-checking: Departamentul de Fact-checking al RISE Moldova

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