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Putin’s criminal army freed to fight Ukraine now back on Russian streets

More than 5,000 prisoners have been pardoned by Vladimir Putin since the invasion of Ukraine. (Image: Getty)

They served in Putin’s sickening army of convicted rapists and serial killers – now many are out of their maximum security cells and back on the streets of Russia.

Ordinary Russians are increasingly discovering hardened convicts back in their neighbourhoods, years before they ought to have been released.

More than 5,000 prisoners have been pardoned by Vladimir Putin since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, offering the convicts the chance to fight alongside Wagner mercenaries in Ukraine.

Those who volunteered made full use of their licence to maim and torture and, despite a high death toll, many have survived the tour of duty.

They come home as “heroes” of the motherland, to live as free men with their criminal records completely expunged. Yet to the alarm of the average citizen, many have returned to a life of violent crime.

Examples include Yuri Gavrilov, 33, a convicted rapist pardoned by Vladimir Putin to serve in Ukraine.

Shortly after his return to Sol-Iletsk in Russia’s Orenburg region, he kidnapped, tortured and raped the 11-year-old daughter of a neighbour who had sent her next door to collect an audio speaker. He was caught by furious residents as he fled.

Demyan Kevorkian, 31, had barely served 12 months of an 18-year sentence for his role in heading a criminal gang accused of killing at least one of its victims, when he was offered the chance to trade his cell for the front lines.

Shortly after his return to Russia he was charged, along with two other accomplices of the brutal double slaying of Kirill Chubko, 37, and his 19-year-old wife Tatyana Mostyko. The couple, both animators, had pulled their car into a lay-by in Krasnodar to fix a flat tyre. Their bodies were later found in woodland, near the remains of their burn-out vehicle.

Pardoned murderer Oleg Mikhailov, 25, had just begun serving an 18-year prison term when he signed up with Wagner PMC.

In November last year Mikhailov, back home in Bashkortostan, asked a female acquaintance, 24, to take him home.

As soon as they arrived he threatened her with a knife, dragged her into the house and raped her. So desperate has Russia been to boost troop numbers for its so-called Ukraine meat grinder, that even the longest prison sentences can be commuted for just six months of service on the frontlines.

Convicts between the ages of 22 and 50 are accepted, with many offered additional bonuses of £2,800.

A video showing Wagner chief Yevgeni Prigozhin recruiting convicts at Yoshkar-Ola penal colony, filmed in October 2022, emerged in January last year.

He warned drinking, drug use and rape on the front lines was not to be tolerated, and deserters would be executed.

“We need shock troops,” said Prigozhin, who died in a mysterious plane explosion in August last year. “No one falls back. No one retreats. No one surrenders.”

He told gathered convicts that those forced to surrender were expected to detonate a grenade.

The return to Russia of battle-scarred soldiers has led to the first increase in murder rates for 20 years, according to a report by lawyer association Travmpunkt. Until 2022, statistics from the Prosecutor General’s Office showed a “steady decline” in murders and attempted murders, from 32,265 cases in 2002 to 7,332 in 2021. But 2022, saw an alarming four per cent increase, with 7,628 more cases.

Russian activist Alyona Popova, who ran as an independent MP in Russia in 2021 before being labeled a Foreign Agent, said: “Russia is suffering an epidemic of violence and justice, law and human rights are concepts which no longer mean anything.”

“The murder rate is increasing owing to soldiers returning home whose experiences have altered them.”

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“And now there is huge fear when convicted killers who have been pardoned are seen back in their neighbourhoods long before their prison terms were due to end.”

“This fear is made worse by the belief criminals cannot be prosecuted because they are heroes of Russia.”

She said some ordinary Russians were now taking direct action.

She said: “Remember that the majority of Russia’s population are women – 77 million, compared with 66 million men.”

“The Kremlin has already showed it fears the power of women when it effectively banned the campaign group The Council of Wives and Mothers, after labelling it as a ‘foreign agent’.”

“People are being increasingly vocal in their complaints and are sometimes taking matters into their own hands.”

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