Russian prisoners who fought as mercenaries in Ukraine given freedom

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By Mark Armstrong  with AFP
Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing Wagner mercenaries
Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing Wagner mercenaries   -  Copyright  AFP

He recruited them from Russia's prisons to fight in Ukraine and on Thursday he thanked for them their service and relieved them of military duty as heroes.

The former chief of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, shook hands with a group of former prisoners who've been fighting for Russia for the past six months in exchange for their freedom.

Prigozhin told them: "You've worked until the end of your contract. You've worked honourably, with dignity. Among the first. Among the first, yes. You've fulfilled it like few others."

Prigozhin recalled that many Wagner fighters have died and called on Russian society to treat them with respect. And he had some advice for those released.

"Don't drink too much," he told them, "don't use drugs, don't rape women, don't get into trouble. The police must treat you with respect."

Known for their brutality and efficiency in other conflicts such as Syria and Mali, Wagner mercenaries are finding Ukraine a tough nut to crack.

 Prigozhin himself has admitted as such. In the fight for the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donbas region he spoke of every house as a "fortress".