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Putin sending women prisoners to fight in Ukraine as troop losses increase

By Sarah May on
 March 15, 2023

With the war in Ukraine persisting for far longer than most observers ever expected, Russia is reportedly engaging in a new strategy for bolstering its faltering troop numbers, namely, sending women prisoners into battle, as the Daily Mail reports.

Word of the novel practice comes from sources in the Ukrainian army who suggest that the heavy losses sustained by Russia in recent weeks have forced President Vladimir Putin to resort to “alternative sources of replenishment of manpower.”

Prisoner movements reported

According to the Ukrainian military sources quoted by the Mail, last week witnessed a movement of personnel via train towards the Donetsk region and that “One of the carriages [was for] convicted women.”

The outlet also referenced reports suggesting that groups of female Russian convicts had also been transported to Kuschevka of the Krasnodar region, close to where hostilities are raging.

It was there that some women were said to have been deployed as farm laborers and other jobs potentially in service of the military's ongoing supply needs.

According to Olga Romanova of the non-governmental advocacy organization known as Russia Behind Bars, roughly 100 women may have been sent to Ukraine, but according to earlier reports about potential plans to send inmates to the front lines, that number could be poised to grow.

Deployment plan floated

Late last year, the New York Post reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin confidant and founder of the Wagner Group paramilitary organization, revealed his plans to dispatch female prisoners to fulfill key roles in the war against Ukraine.

Prigozhin's intentions were laid bare in a statement released by one of his surrogates, and the Putin ally was reportedly acting in response to comments from a Russian lawmaker who claimed to have been approached by female inmates who were interested in going to Ukraine to work as nurses, doctors, and communications technicians.

The concept, in Prigozhin's mind, was a good one, but did not go nearly far enough, as he reportedly wanted to expand the roles that could potentially be filled by the women inmates.

“[Female inmates] should serve not only as nurses and communications, but also in sabotage groups and sniper pairs,” Prigozhin explained.

Idea gains steam

In anticipation of arguments from critics of his plan, Prigozhin stated, “Everyone knows that this has been widely used. We are working in this direction. There is pushback, but I think we will prevail.”

As the Post noted, increased discussion of arguably unorthodox methods of troop mobilization came to the forefront as Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu touted ideas for growing the military from 1.15 million to 1.5 million combat soldiers, particularly in the wake of substantial battlefield losses the preceding months.

Shoigu noted that the expansion was necessary “to guarantee the solving of problems related to Russia's military security and suggested that just under 700,000 of the soldiers needed to be professional fighters, not merely conscripts forced to serve.

Wagner Group mercenaries from Prigozhin's organization had already poured into the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, which has been a source of frustration for Russian soldiers, as its capture long proved elusive.

Not just women

The Mail noted that it is not just female prisoners who have been rounded up for service in Ukraine, with male prisoners having been gathered in large numbers.

Those individuals are reportedly given a chance to have their sentences canceled in exchange for six months of service on the front lines in Ukraine.

That scheme has, as the Mail notes, resulted in violent criminals such as rapists and murderers released onto the streets, and though many of those former prisoners end up serving in ranks of Wegner's private mercenaries, Prigozhin recently said he would no longer use this particular source of labor for the group's missions in Ukraine.

Even so, reports suggest that the Russian Defense Ministry itself is going directly to convicts and securing their services as a means to replenish dwindling personnel reserves, and it remains to be seen precisely the scale to which this controversial recruitment model will ultimately be implemented.