Ukraine War Day #340: Earning Redemption With Blood

Letter from Raskolnikov to Sonya:  My dearest Sonya, I had an odd experience today in my Siberian labor colony.  A very odd-looking man, head shaped exactly like an upside-down egg, approached me and offered me a full commutation of my sentence, if I agree to fight in his private army of mercenaries in the ongoing Crimean War, which is taking place even as we speak.  This would be a 6-month contract.

Letter from Sonya to Raskolnikov:  Dear Rodion, sounds like a sweet deal for a double homicide.  My advice:  Take the deal.

Raskolnikov:  But what if I get killed in battle?  I hear those English Light Hussars are maniacs, just crazy-brave on the battlefront, especially when charging our Cossack artillery battalions.

Sonya:  My darling, if you are killed, then I will mourn over your ashes.  But if you survive, then we can be together in under a year.  Take the deal.

Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment [not really]

Dear Readers:

First order of business: As I promised my Loyal Readers, I have watched that 2-hour movie “The Best In Hell”, produced by Prigozhin and his crew. Quicky review: It’s really good, it should win the Oscar for Best Film. I like that it is also educational, as that Colonel Shopot explains the different types of weapons, artillery and tank systems used. For any War Geek, this movie is a must. If Prigozhin meant this as a “recruitment film,” I imagine he will get some takers. It didn’t work that way with me, though. Sort of had the opposite effect, to be honest…

The movie is gritty and realistic, but, being a hopeless romantic, I would have liked to see a bit more on the “love and redemption” side of things, à la Dostoevsky. For example, that episode where the Russian and Ukrainian (sorry, “White” and “Yellow”) soldiers reminisce about their grandfathers taking Berlin together, that could have been a heartwarming scene, and the two guys could have shaken hands and become good friends. But no, they call each other assholes, pull out their giant army knives and continue to slash each others throats egregiously. Well, I suppose that’s the way it is in real life, unfortunately, once men are filled with battle rage.

Zeks To The Front!

With that, I move on to this related human interest story, our heroes are not actors but actual real soldiers, Wagnerite “criminals”, recruited from Russia’s prison system to fight the war in Ukraine. The co-authors of this piece are Abbas Dzhuma and Vasilisa Nikolaeva. A quick language note: in Russian, the slang word for a jailbird is a zek, the word itself is an abbreviation of the word Заключённый (zakl’uchonny) meaning “incarcerated”.

We should note first that Westie/Ukrainian propaganda had a field day with this development. They want to portray these unusual recruits as ferocious criminals, (a) rapists and murderers set loose upon the Ukrainian people, in their spare time when they are not busy fulfilling their primary mission (b) as cannon fodder to toss into the maws of that awesome Ukrainian meatgrinder. And this cartoonish depiction notwithstanding the Ukrainian practice of also recruiting prisoners; not to mention jewelry thief Beau Geste and his gang of thugs from the French Foreign Legion.

Sonya: “Take the deal.”
Evgeny Prigozhin: “I offer you redemption and Christ’s forgiveness.”

Starting in the spring of 2022, we learned that Wagner founder Evgeny Prigozhin was touring the Russian prison network to recruit volunteers for the Special Military Operation. These zeks would serve in his private military company called Wagner. In September Prigozhin himself confirmed the rumors and speculations. He stated in a radio interview that his recruits were successfully fighting on the Bakhmut front. Rejecting the stereotypes of violent criminals thrust into the role of raw cannon fodder: “First of all, these are patriots, they will not allow their Motherland to be ashamed of them. Secondly, they are professionals, and many of them have a lot of military experience. And lastly, those people who feel squeamish about sending prisoners to the front, well then, send your own children.”

This past December, the first tranche of zeks, now ex-zeks returned from the front, free men, all their sins forgiven, after they had finished serving out their 6-month contract. “With medals, money, and a pardon,” as Wagner bragged proudly. And in January the second group returned home.

In the interviews below, all the names have been changed (by the reporters) to protect the guilty.

Dmitry Semyonov

“Now I am a free man, but my wife still has to serve 11 years.” In the spring of 2022 Dmitry was offered a choice: 180 days in the meat grinder versus 12 years sitting out his sentence. He made the right choice. His call sign was “Kurva“, which is army lingo for “The Recon Commander is working with accuracy”. People who speak Polish think of something else; apparently this is a really bad word in Polish.

Ex-zek “Kurva”. (Why bother to alter his name if you go ahead and show his face??)

Kurva: “My wife won’t get out until 2034. She was supposed to get out one year before me. I did this for her, to be honest. Now I’m going to see if I can get her out earlier as well. I’ll try anything for her.”

Kurva was a veterinarian from a family of veterinarians. And although he stopped practicing this trade long ago, he still tinkers with inventions of prostheses for cats and dogs. He and his spouse, in their real job, engaged in concocting and selling psychotropic substances in rather large quantities. In 2018 the court sentenced him to 17 years, and the wife to 16. [yalensis: Russia has really strict drug laws. This is how they were able to nail Brittney Griner. I will keep my opinions to myself, on both issues, for now.]

“It’s been 5 years since I was home. Everything looks new and strange. I met up with old friends and classmates. People I studied with in college. I even met up with some people I knew in jail. This new world is very interesting to me.”

Reporters: How did army service affect you, serving in the very forge of the special operation, out on the front lines?

Kurva: It changed my soul. I am a completely different person now. I am more organized, more responsible, more honorable. Prior to prison colony, I was just Dima the carefree crook. In the colony I was reborn as Dmitry, because I was already starting to change. And then the SMO, the discipline, the regime, all of that continued to change me even more. Do you know how we address each other on the front? “Brother”. We become brothers in blood, brothers in arms. We were given identical uniforms, and we became parts of a single whole. There, it doesn’t matter, who volunteered, and who was recruited from the colony. Honestly speaking, at times it was more interesting to fight alongside fellow zeks, because they have that fire in them, that élan, they are purging themselves with blood, which gives them a chance for redemption. I have some wounds. Both bullet wounds and from shell fragments. But the fact that I am sitting here talking to you, is proof that I was not just cannon fodder.

Summer of 2022: Wagnerites liberate the Ugledar Electric Power Station.

We fought near Bakhmut. We took the Ugledar Power Station. The fighting got more and more complicated. Otradnoe. Nikolaevka. We marched and marched, fighting for every meter of land. The last battle I fought in, was the most difficult of all. They had given us the task of taking a fortified position. Where 40 regular Ukrainian soldiers and 6 from the Aidar Battalion were waiting for us, along with 2 large-calibre machine guns. We snuck through their lines in the middle of the night and conducted a true Bartholomew’s Day massacre. I was wounded in the fray, but it was still a lot of fun. The Ukrainians simply didn’t expect such audacity from us, when just four of us approached their sleeping troops. We took 8 prisoners and even one Aidar, those are the guys who claim they never allow themselves to be taken prisoner.

As for us: We never retreat. It’s always just Forward, Forward. All it took was 50 zeks to take 100 Ukrainian prisoners. Some people say we are working out an “amnesty for blood”, but that’s not the way it is. This is our choice. We always had a choice: You can stay, or you can go. We even designed an emblem for ourselves, our motto is “All or Nothing!”

“Were you given any training?”

Kurva: Yes, and very good training. Instructors who were former Special Ops guys, worked us really hard. But we liked it. A feeling of discipline, and even super-discipline, was born within us. The labor colony has its own sort of discipline, of course. But this is different, this is military discipline. We got the best weapons, the best equipment, and we were allowed to take trophy equipment.

“They gave you your 100 grams of rum?”

Kurva: No! No drugs or alcohol allowed whatsoever. And we were strictly forbidden to commit any violence or coercion against the peaceful civilian population. They watched us very closely in this regard. Just courage and élan, that’s all they needed from us! Life or death. It was like dancing on the edge of a blade.

“Were you afraid?”

Kurva: Of course. Fear is always there, and it needs to be there. Fear is your friend. If you lose it, that’s a bad thing. Fear helps you sense when there is danger. It whispers to you: “Don’t go there.” So you hold back, and boom! a shell hits that exact spot.

Soldiers of Aidar Battalion are ideologically motivated.

Kurva believes that the enemy should not be demeaned nor underestimated. He can philosophize on this topic for hours: “To under-estimate your opponent, that is the main danger for any soldier. If you say that he is weak, that means that we are weak too. If you say that he is strong, then we are strong as well, especially when we defeat him. It is necessary to have a rational estimate of his strength, and even to fear him at times. Although I have to say, that the regular Ukrainian army soldiers are weaklings, they run away from us and willingly surrender to us. But the Aidar guys, they are more interesting, they are better trained and ideologically motivated.”

“What are your further plans?”

Kurva: I plan to re-enlist in Wagner. I want to get better at my job, learn about new types of warfare, master new types of weapons. I am only 39, I still have my life ahead of me.

“So, your motivation has not flagged?”

Kurva: No, I still feel the fire inside me. And generally I find that here, in the peaceful world, people are always angry at something, always just focused on themselves. Out there, on the front lines, life is simpler, somehow. Or maybe I just haven’t got used to being among ordinary people again. Maybe I just need to become more adapted to normal life? I have only been home for 6 days, my eyes have not accustomed to the sights. Of course, the pretty girls, the sight of flowers, the supermarkets, all of this is very appealing to my eyes. And yet, over there it’s better somehow…

Next: We hear the experiences of a different zek, Andrei.

[to be continued]

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40 Responses to Ukraine War Day #340: Earning Redemption With Blood

  1. michaeldroy says:

    Thanks for this – an interesting piece.


  2. This is a comment I left on Moon Of Alabama about Best In Hell:

    “There is one especially heartbreaking sequence in Best In Hell of a house where fighting is going on. An Orthodox Church ikon is knocked off a shelf. A Yellow (Ukrainian) soldier picks it up, replaces it on the shelf, crosses himself, then leaves. There’s an explosion, the ikon is again knocked off the shelf, a White (Russian) soldier enters, picks up the ikon, replaces it on the shelf, crosses himself…and shortly afterwards the two men fight to the death.

    And as the narration says, in the end it was all for nothing because despite all the men on both sides getting killed and the White Su 25s successfully destroying the Yellow artillery, the Yellows simply brought up more and the war just went on again.”


    It’s ironic that Western entertainment, from Hollywood to, fetishise tales of prisoners becoming military heroes. I suppose they’re ready to flush The Dirty Dozen like tales down the memory hole?

    By the way, the actor who played Shopot is Aleksei Kravchenko, who played Florya in Come And See.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yalensis says:

      Great comment, Fiendly.
      And I too was really taken with that actor who played Shopot, I thought he was simply terrific. In a fair fight he would win the Oscar.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have been going through the movie slowly, because I freeze the frame every few seconds to get a closer look at the backgrounds, the military equipment, replay what various characters are doing… It’s the way I like to watch things. Although I don’t like it MUCH, because everything takes so long to get through. But one gets more depth that way — little things such as how the Yellow soldier who was hit in the legs during the early-on White grenade barrage; he propped his gun between his legs and kept firing as his mate was dragging him to safety. That’s some slam-bam action cinematography right there. To echo what some commenter on MoA (not Fiend-o) said, the film is respectful to both the Ukrainian and Russian sides. It doesn’t show one faction as saintly and the other as slavering incompetent Nazis. Prigozhin’s film crew didn’t HAVE to script a Ukie soldier being bravely combative when he was in a bad way, but they were somewhat even-handed.

      I could bloviate on a lot of thoughts about the movie, and I’m not even 15 minutes in at this point. I’ll stick to one thing, though: what a waste! Not the movie. Not even the waste of lives. But what a waste of money in this war! Every bullet that gets fired — the resources spent on that could have bought a loaf of bread. Every 120 mm mortar shell had enough metal and manufacturing skill in it to make a toaster for that bread loaf. The opening scene with the Wagner forces dashing out from their bunker below the blasted railroad carriages — how much good could those cars have done carrying people in a peaceful world? And all this was expended in just ONE (fictional) encounter, when there are dozens like it happening every day; hundreds in a month…

      Dwight Eisenhower, who could give some good speeches even as the U.S. war machine was going full-scale in its nuclear madness, had one early in his presidency about how the cost of very jet fighter could have instead built a school. And the stories I read via Naked Capitalism are about how all the NATO countries are planning to spend so much MORE to build up their killing forces. It’s military Keynesianism. Only instead of paying one man to dig a hole and then paying another man to fill it in (one of Keynes’ not-entirely-serious proposals to deal with the unemployment crisis in the Great Depression), this Keynesianism pays for explosives to blow up a giant hole, and for the workers’ shattered bodies to fall into it.

      Lastly, do you think this film will be censored from Utoob? I read that the U.S. has declared Wagner to be an “international criminal organisation.” And an American company can’t host a criminal organisation’s propaganda on its site, right? Utoob wouldn’t allow ISIS recruitment videos or Mexican narcotraficante atrocity films, would they? (Perhaps they’re on there — I don’t wanna look.) I can see that as a rationale for trying to memory-hole “Best In Hell.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. lou strong says:

    [yalensis: Russia has really strict drug laws].
    This brought out a youth memory.
    In a winter day of an undefined year of the very last period of existence of SSSR, me and my girlfriend of the moment went to a Milan suburbia abandoned place called “le vasche”(the tubs) to buy hash, smoke and have a chat with the guys down there. One of the guys we met there, we told him :”Hey, we haven’t seen you around for such a long time, where have you been ?”.
    His story was : as usual , I went to Kashmir in the harvest period to make my own hash, I made 4 kg, hid it in my case and took my Aeroflot flight back to Italy.I was caught in the Kyev stopover and they gave me 4 years, so apparently one for kilo.
    I served two years, then I was freed and here I am.It was not so hard except that during winter mostly I didn’t feel like having my time outside the cell.


    • yalensis says:

      Your friend was lucky that he only had to serve 2 years. The Wagner guy (and his wife) got 16 or 17 years! If I am not mistaken, Brittney Griner was sentenced to something like 15 years (for carrying a small parcel of vaping marijuana for personal use!)
      Of course, take into account, I think the Russians were partly just bluffing with her, because they needed somebody to trade for Bout.


  4. S Brennan says:

    I think the practice of denigrating enemy soldiers is purposely done by certain command structures to engender atrocities that link the common soldier to those who perpetrated the unjust war. After a soldier commits an atrocity in a “war-of-aggression”, he no longer is just a simple soldier serving his country, he’s a party to a war crime, his silence and consent in the matter is thereafter insured by this commingling of crimes.

    Sociopaths who desire to wars-of-aggression are naturally drawn to DC/London, into the circles of their fellow travelers. All of the US wars since the fall of the USSR, are easily identified as wars of aggression..senseless, counterproductive, foolish, bloody; in the case of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Ukraine, all are identifiable as a vanity project perpetrated by a cabal of criminal sociopaths, whose ever-changing rationals reveals these wars to be symptoms of a diseased mind.


  5. leaf says:

    I think the strict drug laws is a really good idea. Opium addiction in China after the Opium Wars created millions of addicts, bankrupted families and the nation, and ruined society. There was a reason the CPC is fierce in quashing drug use and why it has popular support in China. Meanwhile in Canada, drugs are also wreaking havoc on the population but the solution here is insane, they are trying to decriminalize drugs. Because of things like this, stabbings on the Toronto subway are becoming a daily occurrence! Many homeless refuse to enter homeless shelters because they check in on them to make sure they haven’t died from overdose, so they instead set up tents in parks, leave human waste and needles and garbage all over the ground, while they do God knows what in there. It’s a slow disintegration of society here. Something like 100,000 Americans have died from fentanyl overdose last year. Drugs are the fastest way for society to degrade first morally, and then physically.


    • yalensis says:

      I have been reading a lot about the fentanyl epidemic, and how it is destroying Canada. The thing is, these epidemics seem to happen whether drugs are legal or illegal. Currently these opioids are illegal in Canada, no? Do you believe that stricter laws and harsher sentences would have a positive impact and cut down on drug abuse? It’s a sincere question, I don’t know the answer, and I’m not really qualified to debate it in a serious way.

      I just know from American experience, the whole “War on Drugs” thing was a cynical way to criminalize and control African-American communities. Rich white kids would do expensive cocaine and get away with it, while black kids in the ghetto would smoke cheap crack, and fill up the jails with blacks. So, the whole thing was a bit of a scam, and just a way to fill the prisons and make money for the Prison-Industrial Complex while, as a bonus, keeping the blacks down in their place, and unable to move up in the world, nor challenge the white establishment.

      I realize it’s not quite the same thing in Canada, they don’t have this whole race thing going on; but I certainly wouldn’t trust Canadian cops and prison system to have the best interests oof the people at heart; any more than I trust the Americans.
      The Chinese government, on the other hand, I trust them more. They may be authoritarian, but they’re still socialists, so they have to answer to the needs of the people and work for the good of society. I can totally understand, historically, why they won’t permit opium, and why they try to control vice. Although, of course, they allow people to smoke and drink alcohol.


      • leaf says:

        I don’t know really, you can write the most wonderful laws but enforcing them is another matter. I don’t think there is a mood in this country (at least from the political elite and they control all the media) of wanting to make or enforce such laws. From what I understand these days, they are more often just letting them go or recommended them to rehab but not making sure they follow through with the treatment. Many of the charities and non-profit organizations meant to help these people are also kind of comically corrupt. For instance, I once worked for some local mental health organization that was supposed to help addicts and other vulnerable peoples. But they were very focused on the usual woke stuff and they also received some $30 million in donations of which they used to help only 150 people with temporary housing that year…


        • yalensis says:

          I work for a hospital. (Not in the clinical field, I’m I.T., but I see what goes on.) When people are in pain, they need something to stop the pain, and this is how the addiction to opioids happens, sometimes. Even small children get doped up. But sometimes, realistically, there is no other way to help manage their pain, so one should not get up on a high horse and condemn that. In fact, some medical experts are now saying, just let people have their morphine if they need it.

          I once had a minor surgery done (I almost tore my thumb off in a classic skiing accident), and they used propofol on me for the anesthesia. It was the most wonderful sensation when I woke up, I have never felt so good in my life! (Almost good enough to become a surgery junkie and wish to break something else, LOL!)

          Fortunately, I didn’t become addicted to propofol, and never had it since, although I still have fond memories how good it felt. Which sort of supports your point in a way, because if propofol were legal, then would I be tempted? The only reason I am not tempted is because it is controlled substance and no way for a regular person like me to just walk into a store and buy it. Although that doesn’t seem to stop others. Fentanyl is also illegal, but seems like resourceful people know how to get their hands on it anyhow. I’m just not resourceful person and have no contacts with the criminal undergroud.

          Now, where I live, marijuana is perfectly legal (this is fairly recent) but honestly I have no desire. That particular substance has no interest for me. The people who smoke it legally now, are the same people who used to smoke it illegally. (Like, my downstairs neighbor, for example!) And I see no change in their behavior, they still go to work every day, come home, and then smoke or vape their way through the evening. Some people drink, some people vape…

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Liborio Guaso says:

    Already in the West they had dedicated themselves to smearing the Russian plan, which of course does not include dangerous criminals and something would never be worse than recruiting all kinds of assassins by Western countries, as is done for the religious war in the Middle East.
    We all know the story of Bin Laden and his people and also remember that the greatest crime in the history of humanity, the Indigenous Genocide with the sword and the cross, was carried out with armies of prisoners from all over Europe sharing with Christian priests.


  7. JMF says:

    Great story, yalensis. Kurva’s last remarks remind me very much of the original film version of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, where the main character, upon returning home to Germany, reaches the conclusion that the “real” world no longer seems real.

    Our Western propagandists exhibit some real gall criticizing Wagner’s redemption scheme; Zelensky’s approach was to just let all the murderers and rapists loose (and arm them), with no conditions whatsoever:

    “These are animals, not people”: Zelensky frees convicted child rapists, torturers to reinforce depleted military


    • yalensis says:

      The Ukrainian way of doing things, they want their soldiers to be as violent and criminal as possible. I should say, this is the American way of doing things, they always orientate towards the most violent criminal players for their allies, like Al Qaeda, ISIS, bin Laden, Bandera, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      • S Brennan says:

        Not the American way, the 3LA way…let’s get that straight! While the elitist centers of the US force their view down everyone’s throat, a slim majority resist the Satanic Verses spewed into our living rooms.

        Until the neo-colonial wars of Clinton, Bush, Obama & Biden, US soldiers were considered well disciplined, those who served in Europe were well regarded by the French, Belgians, Dutch, Soviets, Italian, Germans…only the ingrates in England considered US Soldiers poorly disciplined.

        Viet Nam was the neo-colonial war that changed everything; it was the first US war that the 3LAs initiated and directed…and we have been losing 3LA wars ever since.


  8. Daniel Rich says:

    @ yalensis,

    PTSD has lost the connection between blood, gore and death [up-close] and “love and redemption.”

    Only civilians hang on to that concept.

    War kills and destroys.

    I saw it in my dad.


    • yalensis says:

      You speak the truth. These guys are suffering from PTSD, but they have sublimated their shock into some mythical notion of “brotherhood”.
      I feel sorry for the wives and girlfriends too. Because if these guys can only find meaning in the “brotherhood”, then they are not going to be very interested in normal family life, which involves women and children and lots of boring details of ordinary life. Probably, like junkies, they will just keep signing up for the next war and keep on fighting until eventually a bullet with their name on it…


    • yalensis says:

      Good article, thanks for sharing. I hope you are right about Taiwan.
      And that is a very good point that everybody should mull over: Namely, that in an imperfect world, people cannot necessarily obtain every single one of their desires. So that, for example, trading “a bit one’s independence” in return for peace, may not be such a horrible thing. Similarly, like you say, Ukraine could have traded a bit of territory for a lasting peace. It’s only the “ultimas” who insist on “all or nothing” and never compromise!

      “You can’t always get what you want!”

      Liked by 1 person

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