A former member of an infamous The group of Russian mercenaries who fought in Ukraine say they have dramatically escaped to Norway, where they are seeking asylum and offering to cooperate with international war crimes investigations.
Andrei Medvedev commanded a squad of Wagner’s paramilitary forces in eastern Ukraine before fleeing after witnessing the execution of former prisoners who were conscripted into the war, he said in a video released Monday by a Russian rights group.
“I am afraid of a painful death,” Medvedev told Vladimir Osechkin, founder of Gulagu.net, who said he helped the former mercenary leave the country after he approached them fearing for his life.
Medvedev said he crossed into Norway and turned himself in to local police before seeking asylum in the country, which shares an Arctic border with Russia.
The former mercenary recounted his defection from his former employer, which he joined last year on a four-month contract after serving a prison sentence.
Medvedev said he scaled barbed wire fences, evaded border patrol dogs, fled guards’ bullets and traversed a forest and a frozen lake to reach Norway. Once there, Medvedev said in the video, he knocked on the door of the first house he came across and asked the woman inside to call the police.
He said he was taken to a local police station before being transferred to a detention center for foreign citizens in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
Norway’s border patrol was alerted to the illegal crossing of a man, only identified by authorities as a foreign national, who was later arrested, Finnmark Police District Chief of Staff Tarjei Sirma-Tellefsen told NBC News.
“The man was arrested by a Norwegian Armed Forces border patrol and police,” Sirma-Tellefsen said in a statement, adding that the man had applied for asylum after illegally crossing the border on Friday.
“The arrest of the man was not dramatic,” he said.
Medvedev’s lawyer did not immediately respond to NBC News’ requests for comment. The Norwegian National Police Immigration Service declined to comment, citing a duty of confidentiality.
‘Like cannon fodder’
Medvedev’s defection and the promise of potentially explosive testimony comes after Wagner group founder Yevgheny Prigozhin claimed a high-profile battlefield victory.
Fighters from the mercenary group have led the Russian drive to capture the town of Soledar and the nearby town of Bakhmut in the eastern province of Donetsk, an assault that has helped burnish Prigozhin’s credentials as a challenger to embattled Kremlin military leaders.
But the fierce fighting on the front lines has also come at a heavy cost for the mercenary group, with officials in Kyiv and its Western allies saying Wagner has launched waves of ex-convicts against Ukrainian defenses.
“There were heavy losses, for one offensive we could have 15-20 dead in our squad,” Medvedev said in a separate video posted by Gulagu.net in December. “They stopped considering us people and started treating us practically like cannon fodder,” he said of the period after the prisoners arrived in the second half of last year.
Medvedev said he was unhappy after his contract was forcibly extended, but also after witnessing the mistreatment and even execution of prisoners who disobeyed orders or refused to fight.
“Some of the prisoners were buried at the site and reported missing,” he said, adding that he was aware of 10 executions.