The United States estimated in January that up to 40,000 Russian convicts were part of the Wagner mercenary company. According to Russia Behind Bars, a total of 50,000 prisoners have been recruited from Russian prisons to join the Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
For six months’ service, Russian convicts are pardoned. In total, there were more than 500,000 prisoners in Russian prisons before the war, meaning that about ten percent of these were conscripted in exchange for waiving the duty to serve.
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About 20 percent of Russian soldiers recruited from prisons are HIV positive. Ukrainian authorities made this estimate based on the infection rate among captured soldiers, he said New York times.
And according to the director of Russia Behind Bars, Olga Romanova, ten percent of all Russian prisoners are HIV-positive. One in three has HIV, hepatitis C or tuberculosis.
The newspaper spoke to several Russian prisoners of war infected with HIV, who were captured by Ukrainian forces. Fighting at the front, they say, is less dangerous than being in a Russian prison.
– War prisoner Timur (37 years) told the newspaper that conditions in Russian prisons are very harsh.
He is a Russian HIV positive soldier, released from prison in exchange for serving in defense in the war. Timur is now a prisoner of war in the Dnipro, having surrendered in the fight against Ukrainian forces.
Facts about HIV and AIDS
- Worldwide, there are 38 million people living with HIV.
- More than 26 million people now have access to antiretroviral treatment, but 12 million still lack it.
- 1.5 million new HIV cases were detected in 2020.
- About 700,000 people die of AIDS each year. Organizations working with the disease believe that the Corona pandemic has caused and may increase the number due to poor health services and offers.
- 35.3 million people have died from AIDS-related diseases since the beginning of the epidemic. (Source: Unaids)
Marked with an elastic band
Among Russian soldiers captured by Ukrainian forces, who have served time in Russian prisons, many wear a red or white rubber bracelet. The rubber bands must indicate that the person wearing them has HIV or hepatitis. The gangs aim to protect their fellow soldiers if the HIV positive suffer a bloody infection.
People with HIV who take antiviral drugs cannot pass the infection on. However, advocacy practices around the world differ on whether to allow people living with HIV to serve. Ukraine allows this, as does the United Kingdom, while the United States allows it if the person is already serving when they contract HIV. In the Norwegian Armed Forces it is a requirement that you not be HIV positive in order to serve.
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It was taken off biomedical
Before the war broke out, he served a 10-year prison sentence for selling drugs. In prison, he was taken off treatment that kept his AIDS at bay.
Instead, he was given another antiviral drug, and he feared that one of the drugs might not be effective. Timur fears for his life. He was afraid that ten years of abuse might end fatally for him. Therefore, he allowed himself to be tempted by being a free man within six months and due treatment of HIV.
– I understood that the choice between a slow death or a quick death. He told the newspaper that I had chosen a quick death.
Without any kind of military experience, he was drafted into the Russian army, which was – and still is – in dire need of manpower. After two weeks of training, he was sent to the front. He was given a rifle, 120 rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a helmet.
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He was one of the lucky few
According to Timur, he and his squad were sent to Bakhmut to take part in the fighting there. He says that they were sent on perilous missions and that most of his squad died within the first few days after their deployment.
Timur, for his part, was lucky. He was only captured by Ukrainian forces.
The battles at Bakhmut have been discussed a lot in recent months. Both Russia and Ukraine are believed to have suffered heavy losses in the battles for the city, although analysts say the city has little strategic value.
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