Satellite images of an area near a village in Russia show a rapidly expanding cemetery where many of those killed fighting for the Wagner Group — a Russian private mercenary organization heavily involved in the war in Ukraine — are buried.
Pictures of rows of fresh graves near the village of Bakinskaya in the Krasnodar region first started emerging on social media in December. And on Jan. 2, Russian State News Agency RIA Novosti showed Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin visiting the site and laying a wreath on one of the graves.
“Here we bury fighters who indicated in their will that they want to be buried here,” Prigozhin explained, according to RIA. “Or orphans and those whose bodies, for some reason, relatives do not want to take.”
Satellite pictures taken by on Nov. 24, 2022, show three rows of graves on a new plot. When Prigozhin visited in early January, he told RIA Novosti that 93 graves had been dug. Another Maxar satellite picture taken on Jan. 24 shows the plot already virtually full, with 14 additional rows.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, the Bakinskaya cemetery seen in satellite pictures, as well as a nearby secondary location in the nearby town of Goryachy Klyuch, may hold around 1,000 dead Wagner soldiers.
Local activists reported the mercenary group began using the Bakinskaya cemetery after it ran out of space at a Wagner-affiliated chapel in Goryachy Klyuch.
“The majority of the Wagner Group personnel buried at these sites were reportedly prisoners, a result of the Wagner Group‘s overwhelming reliance on prison recruitment and its operational use of these personnel in costly assaults,” the ISW said in its analysis on Friday.
“The high number of casualties is likely constraining the Wagner Group’s ability to continue offensive operations at a high pace and will likely prompt further prison recruitment efforts,” it added.
More on Wagner’s role in Ukraine: Wagner fighters have been locked in a long battle of attrition with Ukrainian forces as they’ve taken the town of Soledar and are now engaged in the assault on Bakhmut and surrounding villages. Ukrainian officials say Wagner has sent waves of infantry toward their positions and have suffered heavy losses in the process.
The high number of casualties earned the area the nickname of “meat grinder,” and the rapidly expanding graveyard in Bakinskaya illustrates the high death toll.
According to Wagner founder Yevgeny Prighozin, only some of the group’s fighters are buried there.
The US Treasury Department on Thursday designated Wagner a significant transnational criminal organization and imposed a slew of sanctions on a transnational network that supports it.