The number of graves in a cemetery used by Russia’s notorious mercenary Wagner Group has grown dramatically over the past two months, satellite images show.
A photo taken Jan. 24 by Maxar Technologies, a US defense contractor headquartered in Colorado, shows at least 121 burial sites in a portion of the cemetery allocated to fighters from the private military company.
A picture of the same area taken on Nov. 24 appears to show about 17 graves, suggesting there has been a roughly seven-fold increase in two months, according to an NBC News analysis of the site on the outskirts of the village of Bakinskaya, southwestern Russia.
The apparent expansion of the site, some 200 miles from the Crimean border, comes after Wagner Group fighters were belatedly credited earlier this month by the Russian Defense Ministry with taking the eastern Ukraine town of Soledar, where some of the wars took place most intense battle.
Satellite imagery shows an increase in graves at a cemetery in Bakinskaya, Russia, from November 24, 2022 to January 24, 2023. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies)
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner group, said troops from his irregular private army took the salt-mining town two days before the official announcement. He later complained that the Russian military was “constantly trying to steal victory from Wagner.”
Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a former restaurateur, has been recruiting former prisoners to serve as soldiers in Russia’s war against Ukraine, promising bounties and pardons in return. The Wagner Group has previously supported the Russian military in conflicts in Syria and Libya.
Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s forces in the east, confirmed Soledar’s fall for the first time on Wednesday, saying his country’s troops have now withdrawn from the city to previously prepared defense lines “to save the lives of personnel. ”
He added that Ukraine had inflicted “enormous casualties” on Russian soldiers, comparable to “the aggressor’s losses in the two Chechen wars.”
The story goes on
NBC News has not been able to independently verify this claim.
A PMC Wagner Group mercenary cemetery in Baku, Russia. (protocol / telegram)
Two weeks ago, similar aerial photos around the nearby town of Bakhmut showed the devastation of destroyed buildings and bomb craters in the strategically important city, 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 would designate the Wagner Group as a “significant transnational criminal organization” and impose further sanctions on the organization and its support network.
The Wagner group did not comment on the satellite images and video.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com