“Are you sure you’re here?” the taxi driver asks as we pull onto Oreon Street. There are two small hotels on this street: “Relax” and “Cactus”. From a distance, I can see a few people sunbathing on each balcony in military uniforms with prison tattoos all over their chests and backs.
On the website of the hotel where I booked, there is a small group doing a light workout. When I get out of the taxi, the warm-up stops and everyone looks at me. “Girl, you probably won’t come here,” a man in military trousers and an Orthodox cross on his chest tells me. “What if she likes it and doesn’t want to leave?” says the hotel employee with a smile. From the balconies and over the high fence, dozens of men immediately stared at me.
The hotels where the Wagnerites live are located on the outskirts, there is a small wasteland next to it. Between two hotels on a narrow street there is a gazebo for yourself, inside a man and two women, apparently they work here. They talk about a bus that will take the former mercenaries to Moscow and then to other cities. Most will go to Krasnoyarsk. Some of the former prisoners already have pardons, but there are those whose documents are not ready yet. They were promised that upon arrival in their hometown they would be able to receive a pardon. In total, about 200 people will leave the hotels today.
“It’s a military facility,” one woman tells me, adding that I couldn’t book anything here. According to another woman, Wagner PMC has been renting these hotels since December 2022, ordinary holidaymakers cannot book a room here. However, anyone can still book rooms on the hotel’s website. “A family from Moscow came, they made a scandal that we settled them here. We barely made it clear to them that they would be torn apart here,” he tells me. “People are brought here, they stay here for a while, and then we send them where they need to be. This is not a place for tourists, only these guys are placed here – explains the woman. As a result, after a short trial, I was offered to live in a neighboring building of the same hotel.
Meanwhile, former mercenaries and former prisoners approach the man in the gazebo to ask if their papers are ready. They show him their briefcases, he checks the contents and makes a few phone calls. The men complain that without a pardon they cannot buy tickets home. The inspector invites them to the bus to collect the documents already on the spot.
“Now everyone is going through Moscow and they will send you where you need to be. There are a lot of buses,” the man explains to the approaching Wagnerians. They periodically ask him questions about payments, but he briefly replies that he is not responsible for finances.
“The guys are good,” says the hotel employee, looking at them. “They’re sitting here, waiting, they’re on the hotel grounds all the time. They’ll be home soon, they’re all here, we’re done here. “
“They are in rehabilitation, they were in Luhansk, do you understand?” whispers to me a woman who runs a small house with a grill next to it. According to her, she did not hear any screams or parties from the hotels where the former mercenaries live. “They say they’ll be gone for good now,” he concludes.
There are no official guards by the Ministry of Defense or the Federal Prison Service around the hotels. The locals believe that all the security is inside. “Sometimes they go out in small groups of no more than 5 people, buy ice cream, walk a bit in the streets near Paralia (the central tourist street of Vityazhev). They don’t make a fuss, nothing, there’s usually someone like the main with them to watch. “, – a girl from a shop on one of Vityazev streets tells me. This neighborhood worries her. “It’s good that they’ll be leaving soon. Among them there are different – murderers, rapists. They’re still in that military uniform, they scare me,” he says. “They’re not really provocative, but that’s what they look like… After the war and prison, they really need rehabilitation,” he concludes.
On the street, two Wagner men communicate with store employees. They talk about a future trip to Africa and further cooperation with the Polish Military Contingent. Judging by their stories, the Ministry of Defense is not proposing to renew contracts with them. I join the conversation and ask where they are from. “Now we will return home to Omsk, we have not been there for 7 years. There were many things. He defended the homeland”one of the former mercenaries tells me. I have already seen him on the street, where he accompanied other Wagnerians on a short walk. They don’t look like the pardoned prisoners I saw outside the hotel. They look at me directly, speak with sarcasm, evaluate my every gesture and word. We continue the conversation, though I can feel the tension building. I ask them if they have been to the sea. “We don’t go here often.
I wish you a speedy return home and goodbye. On the way, a young man catches up with me and asks if everything is all right. “Listen to them more… Better to avoid them altogether, you’re a girl,” she tells me. He adds that among those who somehow managed to convince security to let them out of the hotel, there were various people, including completely out of control. According to him, the Wagnerians in the two hotels I have seen are under 24-hour security, there is always someone on duty at the door. The streets are narrow, the fences high – just going out without anyone noticing won’t work. My interlocutor has no idea about security, he says that some are occasionally and briefly let out into the next street. In fact, former mercenaries are in custody again, but this time the prison is elite.
Not all local residents know that Wagnerians live in hotels. Some learned about it from Telegram channels, but did not consider it something unusual. “We have many military hospitals here, we also have a Wagner hospital. People are brought there faceless, they are sewn on new ones, ”the waiter tells me in a cafe on the street next to the places where the Wagnerites are stationed. “I saw them here – without legs, with prosthetics, all in bandages – horror” – he shares his impressions. He tells me about his surgeon friend who performs more than five surgeries a day. “Those who have already been brought to hotels are returning home,” he said.
Other local residents also associate both hotels with the Wagner PMC rehabilitation center. Prigozhin, who was interested in the condition of the militants, came to this hospital many times, as reported by the local media. In January, a large group of doctors from all over Russia, mainly surgeons, arrived at the hospital. Also in Anapa there is a recruitment center for PMC “Wagner”, located in the fight club “Kuźnia”. The villagers do not know whether the center is still operating. “Those who wanted to join have already joined, and now it’s too late. If they really want to go to war, then it is possible by contract, ”one of the hotel employees tells me.
In one of the small shops selling beach floats, towels, glasses, clothes and everything a man might need on vacation, I see one of the Wagners trying on goggles. I remember he was the one who approached the administrator today asking about receiving the money. Wagner tries on different glasses, but chooses black “aviators”. “These are glass glasses, be careful with them. If they fall, they will break, says the saleswoman. “To hell with him,” replies the Wagnerian with a smile. He pays in cash in small bills and leaves.
“This is where they buy all their clothes: T-shirts, shorts, sweaters … The whole wardrobe,” the saleswoman tells me. He believes they are buying clothes for “a new life where they won’t have to wear military uniforms.” According to her, they are always calculated in small denominations. “Good boys, very good, but they only swear,” he concludes.
“They’re not allowed to go out at all, but sometimes they secretly let someone out anyway,” a woman in a convenience store next to the hotel tells me. “There are different ones out there – ones that are already quite crazy, but they are also appropriate. These two are on the street, I know them, they’re still normal.she translates.
A bus with tinted windows and Belarusian numbers for Wagners stops at the hotel. The driver says that Belarus is the destination, today he will take 100 people there from among those who have not yet waited for a pardon or have decided to tie their future lives with PMC