The number of graves in a cemetery used by notorious Russian mercenary Wagner Group has grown dramatically in the past two months, satellite images show.
A photograph taken on January 24 by Maxar Technologies, a Colorado-based US defense contractor, shows at least 121 burial plots in a section of the cemetery assigned to private military company fighters.
An image of the same area taken on November 24 appears to show around 17 graves, suggesting that it has grown sevenfold in two months, according to an NBC News analysis of the site on the outskirts of the southwestern town of Bakinskaya. Russia.
The apparent expansion at the site, which is some 200 miles from the Crimean border, comes after Russia’s Defense Ministry belatedly blamed fighters from the Wagner Group for the takeover earlier this month. city of Soledar, in eastern Ukraine, which saw part of the war. more intense combat.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, saying troops of his irregular private army it had taken the salt town two days before the official announcement. He later complained that the Russian army was “constantly trying to steal Wagner’s victory.”
Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a former restaurateur, has recruited ex-prisoners as soldiers-for-hire in Russia’s war against Ukraine, promising rewards and pardons in exchange for service. The Wagner Group previously provided assistance to the Russian military during the conflicts in Syria and Libya.
Acknowledging the fall of Soledar for the first time on Wednesday, Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s forces in the east, said his country’s troops had now moved away from the city towards previously prepared defense lines, “to preserve the staff life. ”
He added that he added that Ukraine had inflicted “enormous losses” on Russian soldiers comparable to “the aggressor’s losses in the two Chechen wars.”
NBC News was unable to independently verify this claim.
Two weeks ago, similar aerial photos taken around the nearby town of Bakhmut revealed the devastation of dilapidated buildings and bomb craters in the strategically important town, when comparing the same areas photographed in August and then again in January. These images were also published by Maxar Technologies.
The US government said last week that it will designate the Wagner Group a “significant transnational criminal organization” and impose further sanctions against the organization and its support network.
The Wagner Group did not comment on the satellite imagery and video footage.