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Relatives of inmates at two prisons outside St Petersburg, IK-7 Yablonevka and IK-6 Obukhovo, told Russian news outlet iStories on Monday that prisoners have been promised 200,000 rubles (£2,800) a month and an amnesty if they survive six months of "voluntary" service.
According to a relative of one of the prisoners, inmates were asked to “defend the Motherland”.
The outreach comes amid recurrent reports that the Russian army will soon face a lack of manpower if it does not declare a mass mobilisation, something that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has so far been reluctant to do, fearing popular discontent.
Wagner recruiters last week and earlier this week reportedly visited three prison colonies outside St Petersburg, which is where the military contractor is based.
According to one relative, prison officials told the inmates they would be transported out of prison with official papers showing they were being transferred to another prison.
From there, they would be under guard all the way until they crossed into Ukraine.
“He was told not everyone will come back alive,” the relative said, adding that those who make it out alive will be paid 200,000 rubles and offered amnesty.
“If they die, the family will be paid 5 million rubles (£72,000). All of this is just words. It’s not written anywhere.”
Relatives of the inmates told iStories that they were not clear about the nature of the assignment.
Some said their men had been invited to serve alongside Wagner mercenaries while others were told they would be involved in reconstruction work in Russia-occupied areas of Ukraine.
An unidentified relative of a Yablonevka inmate said he had already signed a contract to go to Ukraine.
“He told me two days after the meeting that he signed the contract and that there’s no going back,” the relative said.
“He says they’re going there to fight. Why did he agree? He was tempted by a promise that he would be back home in six months and his conviction would be invalidated.”
Alexander Rulev, head of the IK-7 colony, said he had not heard about the recruitment drive.