An Iraqi citizen fighting with Russia’s Wagner mercenary force was killed in Ukraine in April, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has said, in what is believed to be the first confirmed case of a Middle East native to have died fighting in the war.
Abbas Abuthar Witwit died on April 7, a day after arriving at a Wagner hospital in the Russian-occupied eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, according to the Russian-language RIA FAN news site.
Prigozhin confirmed to the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that he had recruited Witwit from prison in Russia, adding that he was not the first native of an Arab country to have joined his mercenary unit from jail.
He said the Iraqi national had fought well and “died heroically”.
Much of the fighting for the destroyed Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has been undertaken by convicts recruited by Wagner from Russian prisons on the promise of a pardon if they survived six months at the front in Ukraine.
In February, the United States said the Wagner mercenary group had suffered more than 30,000 casualties since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February and that 90 percent of Wagner fighters killed in Ukraine since December 2022 were convicts.
Prigozhin said last week that approximately 20,000 of his mercenaries were killed in the months-long battle for control of Bakhmut. He also said he recruited about 50,000 prisoners to fight with Wagner in Ukraine and that about 20 percent of them were now dead.
RIA FAN news said that Witwit died after being wounded in Bakhmut.
According to court papers seen by Reuters, Witwit was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison on drug charges in July 2021 by a court in the Russian city of Kazan. The documents said Witwit was a first-year student at a technical university in Russia at the time of his conviction.
In a video published by RIA FAN, a man identified as Witwit’s father is shown receiving awards posthumously given to his son by Wagner and saying he had supported his son’s decision to enlist as a “volunteer” to fight in Ukraine.
“Abbas always pursued his freedom and wanted to be a man who defends his freedom and himself and he told me he found his freedom in Russia,” the man identified as the father is shown saying.
Source : aljazeera.com