The number of graves in a cemetery used by the infamous Russian mercenary Wagner Group has grown dramatically in the past two months, satellite images show.
A photo taken Jan. 24 by Maxar Technologies, a US defense contractor headquartered in Colorado, shows at least 121 burial sites in a section of the cemetery assigned to combatants from the private military company.
An image of the same area taken Nov. 24 appears to show about 17 graves, suggesting there has been about a sevenfold increase in two months, according to an NBC News analysis of the site on the outskirts of the village of Bakinskaya, in southwest of Russia.
The apparent expansion of the site, which is about 200 miles from the border with Crimea, comes after Wagner Group fighters were belatedly credited earlier this month by the Russian Defense Ministry for taking the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine , where some of the war violence took place. most intense fight.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, said troops from his irregular private army had taken the salt mining town two days before the official announcement. He later complained that the Russian army was “constantly trying to steal Wagner’s victory”.
Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and former restaurateur, has recruited former prisoners as soldiers for hire in Russia’s war against Ukraine, promising bounties and pardons in return for service. The Wagner Group previously provided assistance to the Russian military during conflicts in Syria and Libya.
Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s armed forces in the east, first acknowledged the fall of Soledar on Wednesday, saying his country’s troops had now moved out of the city into previously established defense lines, “to save the lives of the personnel . ”
He added that Ukraine had inflicted “enormous losses” on Russian soldiers, similar to “the aggressor’s losses in the two Chechen wars”.
NBC News was unable to independently verify this claim.
Two weeks ago, similar aerial images taken around the nearby city of Bakhmut revealed the devastation of ruined buildings and bomb craters in the strategically important city, comparing the same areas imaged in August and then in January. These images were also released by Maxar Technologies.
The US government said last week it will designate Wagner Group as a “significant transnational criminal organization” and impose further sanctions on the organization and its support network.
The Wagner Group has not commented on the satellite images and video images.