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A Russian cemetery shows Wagner's army of convicts

STORY: Last summer, a five-acre plot of land in southern Russia began to fill with scores of fresh graves.

They're the graves of Wagner mercenaries killed in Ukraine.

The graves are simple: a wooden cross and bright wreaths adorned with Wagner Group's logo.

But the site has also rapidly expanded. A Reuters report shows how fast and details the former lives of some of these fighters, many of them convicts who signed up with the promise of freedom: from contract killers, murderers, and career criminals, to lesser offenses like drug charges.

These satellite photos show the scale. The cemetery is in the village of Bakinskaya, a farming community.

The Wagner plot is this section in the lower right corner. This first image was taken in November 2021, before the February 2022 invasion. You can see it's empty.

Fast forward to a year later, November 2022, and there are three rows of graves.

Now we fast forward to late January, and it's nearly full. When Reuters recently visited it had about 200 graves.

It's not the only place that Wagner lays its fighters to rest. The group's founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen here at the Bakinskaya site. He recently told Russian media that a Wagner chapel in another nearby town had run out of space. There are at least three other cemeteries in this area.

This video from December shows a funeral at another site in St. Petersburg.

The lives these men lived underline Prigozhin's promise to give prison convicts a chance at a second life, in exchange for their service in Russia's campaign.

Reuters matched the names of at least 39 of the dead in the Bakinskaya area to court records, and spoke with family and friends of some of them.

Ten were imprisoned for murder or manslaughter, 24 for robbery, and two for grievous bodily harm.

According to a local news report, one of the men was a hitman convicted of killing a real estate agent for about $5,700. Another had murdered a woman in the forest in a drunken dispute over money.

On the other side of the spectrum was a man convicted to nine years and eight months on drug charges, according to a close friend and fellow convict.

Prigozhin has asked Russian lawmakers to outlaw the publication of Wagner fighters' criminal pasts or actions which discredit them.

He and Russian authorities did not respond to Reuters questions on this report.