June 17, 2024

Russian Mother Says Convict Son Died in Ukraine Soon After Recruitment

  • A Russian mother spoke to CNN about her convict son’s death on the frontlines in Ukraine.
  • Yulia said her son Andrei lasted just three weeks before dying in battle.
  • She later received a letter from the Defense Ministry that marked his death as the day he left prison.

A Russian convict serving time for minor drug charges died three weeks after he was recruited to join the fighting in Ukraine — his hopes of terminating his remaining prison sentence quickly foiled, his mother told CNN

The outlet published two rare testimonials detailing the reality of Russian warfare this week, including an interview with a soldier who described being sent back into the fray just 10 days after sustaining a gunshot wound, and a conversation with Yulia, the mother of the dead Russian convict.  

CNN changed names and removed identifying details to protect the safety of the Russian citizens who almost certainly broke the law in speaking to Western media about how Russia’s war is impacting its own people in devastating ways.

Since the war began in February 2022, Russia has recruited tens of thousands of prisoners to join its ranks, offering them a chance at freedom in return for their service. But Russia has often used these poorly-trained soldiers as cannon fodder and “disposable infantry” amid the brutal battle.

The tactic was first employed exclusively by the mercenary Wagner Group, but the official Russian Defense Ministry copied Wagner’s playbook earlier this year, signing at least 10,000 convicts to the war effort in the month of April alone, according to UK intelligence.

One such recruit, Andrei, went to prison when he was 20 years old on minor drug charges, his mother, Yulia, told CNN. He was given a nine-and-a-half-year sentence and had served just three years when the opportunity for freedom presented itself.

“He didn’t remember the amount of money he was offered, said he hadn’t checked. So, I didn’t see any financial interest for him. It was just about freedom,” Yulia told the outlet. 

Yulia said her 23-year-old son was “not yet a man” when he left his prison cell and headed toward his death. During his brief training, Andrei sent his mother short videos and voice recordings, joking about the weather and documenting his preparations. Yulia provided video proof and chat messages with her son to verify her story, CNN reported. 

On May 8, Andrei messaged his mother and said his unit was officially being sent to the eastern front lines ahead of a dawn assault the following day.

“We were arguing. It is horrible to say, but I already thought of him like he was dead,” Yulia told CNN. “Every day I told him ‘no, no, no.’ And he didn’t listen to me. When he said, ‘we’re going to storm,’ I wrote him ‘Run, Forrest, Run.'”

It was the last time they spoke. 

In the intervening weeks, Yulia said she spoke to relatives of other convict soldiers who were recruited from his same penal colony who said as many as 60 Russian soldiers died in the May 9 attack.

Neither CNN nor Insider were able to independently verify her claims. 

Yulia told the outlet that she still hasn’t received her son’s body or any of his belongings. All she got was a letter from the Ministry of Defense which marked Andrei’s death as the day he left prison front the front lines. 

“The hardest part was that I was afraid, he would kill someone,” Yulia told CNN. “Ridiculous as it sounds, I was afraid he would go through all this and come back to me as a murderer. Because I can live with my son as a drug addict, but with my son as a murderer – it was difficult for me to accept it.”

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