First Middle Eastern native dies in Russia-Ukraine conflict

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An Iraqi citizen fighting with Russia’s Wagner mercenary force was killed in Ukraine in early April, the first confirmed case of a Middle East native dying in the conflict, Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin told Reuters on Wednesday.

Iraqi national Abbas Abuthar Witwit died on April 7, a day after arriving at a Wagner Group hospital in the Russian-controlled, eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, RIA FAN said.

It said he had been wounded in Bakhmut, the city in Donetsk province that Prigozhin said Wagner had taken in mid-May, after a battle that had raged since last year.

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In an interview with a pro-Russian blogger, Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said the whole conflict had cost 20,000 of his men’s lives.

In video published by RIA FAN, a man identified as Witwit’s father is shown receiving awards posthumously given to his son, and that he had supported his decision to enlist in Wagner as a “volunteer.”

“Abbas always pursued his freedom and wanted to be a man who defends his freedom and himself, and he told me he found his freedom in Russia,” he is shown saying.

Prigozhin did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Much of the fighting for Bakhmut was done by convict fighters, recruited by Wagner from prisons on the promise of a pardon if they survived six months at the front in Ukraine.

According to court papers seen by Reuters, Witwit was in July 2021 sentenced to four and a half years in prison on drug charges by a court in the Russian city of Kazan.

The documents said that Witwit was a first-year student at a technical university in Kazan when he was arrested by police with a large quantity of cannabis.

Reuters was not able to confirm that Witwit was in prison when recruited by Wagner.

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