Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of mistreating prisoners of war since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded a year ago


  • The inmate population decreased significantly across penal colonies in 35 Russian regions
  • A drastic fall in prisoner population was also seen in November 2022
  • The leader of the Wagner group said in February that they are no longer recruiting prisoners

Tens of thousands of inmates disappeared from Russian penal colonies following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, leading some to believe that they were recruited to join the war, according to a report.

The inmate population across 35 regions in Russia fell by 17,000 in 2022 alone. It is unclear what led to the drop in prisoner population, but the numbers corroborate reports of Russia recruiting thousands of prisoners to fight alongside Moscow's troops in the war in Ukraine in exchange for freedom and monthly payments ranging from 100,000 rubles ($1,200) to 200,000 rubles ($2,400), per journalists at independent news outlet Mediazona, as translated via Google Translate.

Most of the prisoners who went missing were from the Samara region. The outlet noted that at the beginning of 2022, there were at least 10,200 prisoners in Russian colonies in the region. This decreased to 7,500 at the beginning of 2023.

More than 1,000 people also disappeared in other Russian regions, specifically Chelyabinsk, Kirov and Tatarsan.

This is not the first time the outlet reported about prisoners disappearing from Russian penal colonies. In November last year, the publication found that the population in Russian prisons fell by 23,000 in September and October. At the time, Russia's infamous Wagner group had been recruiting prisoners to participate in the war.

The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service temporarily stopped publishing data on its inmate population after Mediazona's reporting. It only began releasing the data again at the start of January 2023. In that report, however, Russia said the prison population stopped declining. No other reports have been published since.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner group, in February 2023 said they are no longer recruiting prisoners. However, he noted that recruitment efforts have been taken up by the Ministry of Defense.

It is unclear how many of the missing prisoners have been recruited to fight on the frontline. A previous report said Russian operatives and members of the country's Federal Penitentiary Services special forces beat prisoners who refuse to join Moscow's war effort as part of "education work."

Soldier of Ukraine's 5th Regiment of Assault Infantry react after firing a US-made MK-19 automatic grenade launcher towards Russian positions in less than 800 metres away at a front line near Toretsk in the Donetsk region