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Fact-check: Why are certain Wagner mercenary graves being destroyed in Russia?

Journalists stand next to the grave of Dmitry Utkin, who oversaw Wagner Group's military operations, at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery in Mytishchy, outside Moscow
Journalists stand next to the grave of Dmitry Utkin, who oversaw Wagner Group's military operations, at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery in Mytishchy, outside Moscow Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Sophia Khatsenkova
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One particular video accused the Kremlin of attempting to erase the memory of Wagner soldiers after the sudden death of the group's boss Yevgeny Progizhin in a plane crash.

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A video of a man criticising the destruction of a Wagner Group cemetery plot has garnered millions of views on social media. 

Sergey Trifonov, who claims to be a former Russian military member, posted the video on the Russian social media website VK on August 25th.

He can be seen decrying the dismantling of the crosses on the tombs of Wagner fighters in the village of Nikolaevka, in the southwestern region of Samara in Russia. 

The video shows hundreds of crosses stacked and wreaths thrown into piles. 

"Everything has been demolished. What are you doing? It's sacrilege! People fought for Russia and you're razing their tombs to the ground," angrily rants Trifonov.

On the 23rd of August, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed when a small plane carrying him and other group leaders crashed in the northwestern Tver region of Russia.

It happened exactly two months after Wagner Group mercenaries led by Yevgeny Prigozhin staged a brief mutiny against Russia’s Ministry of Defence. 

An attempt to erase all memory of Wagner?

Now, multiple social media users believe the viral video of the flattened graves is proof the Russian government is attempting to erase all traces of the mercenary group. 

"This is very striking - almost Stalinist: a Wagner cemetery has been demolished and all its memorials removed. Will the next step be to erase any evidence of Wagner's existence?" wondered one X user, formerly known as Twitter. 

Currently, there are about seven known areas in cemeteries across Russia and occupied Ukraine reserved for slain Wagner fighters, according to the Moscow Times.

But when searching Russian media reports, Euronews found the construction work seen in the video is actually part of a larger renovation of the site. 

According to an article by 63.ru, published one day after Prigozhin's death, the crosses and wreaths will be replaced by black pyramids called dragon teeth – a reference to the concrete blocks erected by the mercenaries to prevent Ukrainian tanks from approaching their defensive lines.

According to the Russian service of the BBC, residents of Nikolaevka told the news outlet: "Heavy equipment work at the burial site began at least on August 19, that is, long before the crash of the plane on which Prigozhin could have been on board."

Clearly, it's an homage to the Wagner fighters rather than an attempt to erase their memory. 

Does this renovation have anything to do with Prigozhin's death or the mutiny?

The Cube found other mentions of Wagner cemetery renovations more than three weeks before the plane crash. 

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Another local news outlet claimed that a cemetery in Yekaterinburg in central Russia will be renovated with the same black concrete pyramids. 

In the interview, a Wagner official tells Ura News that cemetery renovation will be finished in September. "All the guys died with dignity and deserved such monuments," said the unnamed official. 

There have been even mentions of these concrete 'dragon teeth.'

Vot Tak, an independent newspaper reported on 11 July that black pyramids were starting to replace the traditional crosses in the Wagner burial area of a cemetery in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia from May. 

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According to Vot Tak, it was Yevgeny Prigozhin himself who announced plans to improve the cemetery back in April. 

When asked whether Prigozhin's rebellion has affected the renovation plans, the cemetery worker told the newspaper: "The money has already been allocated, there is no turning back."

That means very similar renovations were already taking place in other burial sites across Russia well ahead of Wagner’s brief mutiny and Prigozhin's death.

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