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.
Abbas Abuthar Witwit died on April 7, a day after arriving at a Wagner hospital in the Russian-controlled, eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, the RIA FAN news site earlier reported.
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.
In response to a Reuters request for comment, Prigozhin confirmed he had recruited Witwit from prison, saying he was not the first native of an Arab country to have joined from jail.
Witwit, he said, had fought well and “died heroically.”
RIA FAN said Witwit 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.
Prigozhin previously 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.
According to court papers seen by Reuters, Witwit was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on drug charges in July 2021 by a court in the Russian city of Kazan. The documents said Witwit was a first year student at a technical university.