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Telegram channel with Vagner group ties shows apparent sledgehammer killing of alleged defector to Ukrainian side

Yevgeny Prigozhin (FBI/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A Telegram channel with close ties to the private Russian mercenary group Vagner has published a video of a fighter who allegedly defected to the Ukrainian side in Russia’s war against Ukraine being killed with a sledgehammer.

The video, which is titled The Hammer Of Revenge and contains comments declaring “The traitor was punished,” was published on the Gray Zone Telegram channel on November 12. The apparent act of retribution was later commended by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin who founded Vagner.

The unverified video shows a man, who identifies himself as 55-year-old Yevgenny Nuzhin, with his head taped to a brick wall in a basement. He said that after being recruited to fight for Russia against Ukraine, he changed sides on September 4 to “fight against the Russians.”

Nuzhin goes on to say he was abducted in Kyiv on October 11.

“I got hit over the head and lost consciousness and came around in this cellar,” he said. “They told me I would be tried.”

At that point, a man in combat fatigues appears to strike Nuzhin with full force with a sledgehammer to the head, causing him to slump to the floor before the unidentified man delivers another blow to the head. Nuzhin’s body is not shown after the second strike.

RFE/RL was unable to verify the authenticity of the video or determine whether Nuzhin ever defected to the Ukrainian side.

In September, Nuzhin appeared in a video interview with Ukrainian journalist Yuri Butusov in which he said he was a convicted murderer who was recruited in jail by the Vagner group and criticized Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Nuzhin said he joined Vagner with the intention of surrendering as soon as possible in order to fight for Ukraine. He said that after the war he hoped to stay in Ukraine, where he said his sister and uncle live.

Prigozhin has been shown on video offering Russian prisoners their freedom if they joined Vagner as part of the effort to boost the Kremlin’s war effort in Ukraine.

In response to a media request asking Prigozhin to comment on the video allegedly showing Nuzhin being killed, the Vagner head said on November 13 that the footage showed excellent directional work, being taken in one cut, but should have been called “A Dog Receives A Dog’s Death.”

“I prefer to watch history in the theater,” Prigozhin added in the comments released by his spokeswoman. “As for the sledgehammer, in this show it is clear that he [Nuzhin] did not find happiness in Ukraine, and met with unkind but fair people.”

There has been no confirmation of Nuzhin’s death from the Ukrainian authorities.

On November 13,, a website that exposes prison abuse in Russia, called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to explain how Nuzhin could have been kidnapped after surrendering to Ukrainian forces.