• The company has opened recruitment centers in schools across 42 Russian cities
  • The group previously recruited its fighters from prisons
  • Human rights experts expressed concerns over recruitment of prisoners

Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, has opened several recruitment stations in a number of schools across the country to potentially attract more youth to join the armed forces.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian mercenary group, confirmed the opening of recruitment centers in 42 Russian cities. "Despite the colossal resistance of the Ukrainian armed forces, we will move forward," the Russian mercenary chief said in a statement, according to Moscow Times.

Now, Prigozhin is seeking to recruit fighters from sports centers and martial arts clubs in the schools to strengthen the group's ideological ambitions, Business Insider reported.

Since the beginning of March, Wagner has set up outreach teams in sports centers across Russia and given career talks in multiple schools as part of its recruitment efforts, a report by the U.K. Defense Ministry said, Jerusalem Post reported.

"In recent days, masked Wagner recruiters also gave career talks in Moscow high schools, distributing questionnaires entitled 'application of a young warrior' to collect the contact details of interested pupils," the report pointed out.

The group has lost around 30,000 soldiers in the Russia-Ukraine war that started last February. Many of those fighters were recruited from prisons with the promise of commuted sentences on their return to Russia if they managed to survive at least six months in the war. However, Wagner ceased recruitment from prisons in February after pressure from the Defence Ministry.

Talking about the constraints put by the Russian Defense Ministry, he said the group will overcome them together. "Despite the spanners that they are throwing in the works at every turn, we will overcome this together," Prigozhin said.

UN-appointed independent human rights experts had also expressed deep concerns over the reports of systematic recruitment of prisoners by the Wagner Group.

"Wagner Group recruits are alleged to have participated in human rights and humanitarian law violations in the context of the ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine, including enforced disappearances of Ukrainian soldiers and officers captured," rights experts said in a statement.

Wagner-recruited soldiers led a fierce fight in Bakhmut in a bid to capture the Ukrainian city. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his forces attacked Russian fighters in the besieged front-line city, killing more than 1,100 soldiers in the past week and injuring 1,500 others. A significant amount of Russian equipment and ammunition depots were destroyed in the action, Zelensky added.

Previously, Wagner Group helped Russian President Vladimir Putin with military personnel support in Syria, Libya and Mali.

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