Among the convicts released from Russian prisons to fight in Ukraine and subsequently pardoned by Putin are some very serious, violent criminals including serial killers, ritualistic murderers, and others involved in multiple killings and heinous crimes.

Once released from their service these violent convicted offenders are simply set free back into Russian society, causing fear among the public.

When families of a serial killer’s victims heard that murderer Denis Zubov had been released from prison to fight in Ukraine and had been pardoned they feared for their own lives until his grave was spotted recently.

Zubov, 41, from the southern Russian city of Volgograd, was sentenced to 21 years in a maximum-security colony in 2017 for the murders of three people – two in 2013 and one in 2014.


Initially, the killings were thought to be random – the victims were unknown to their killer and each other.

In September 2013 a 63-year-old man was killed in the Krasnoarmeysky district of Volgograd and three days later a 70-year-old woman in the Svetloyarsky district. According to the Russian V1 news site the killer had cut off his victims’ body parts, which led investigators to believe they had a serial killer on their hands.

In 2014 the strangled and mutilated body of Zubov’s former partner was found in a forest near Olkhovsky district.

It wasn’t until 2016 that DNA evidence was found linking Zubov to the killings. Under interrogation he admitted to the murders and that the mutilation had been a conscious decision to try to confuse investigators by portraying the killings as the work of a serial killer.

British Defence Intelligence Update Ukraine 26 May 2024
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British Defence Intelligence Update Ukraine 26 May 2024

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The families of Zubov’s victims were appalled to find out that he had been released from prison, one of several cases of convicts who had been released to fight on the front line in Putin’s war against Ukraine. They were even more upset to find that he had been pardoned by a decree signed by Putin, after serving the minimum six months in combat.


Hence their relief when the Russian independent news website Mediazona reported on Thursday that Zubov’s grave had been found in one of the Volgograd cemeteries by activists of Volgograd’s Dozor project. This is an NGO that strives to maintain a list of Russian soldiers from the region that have been killed in Putin’s so-called “special military operation,” as the authorities seem reluctant or incapable of producing the information.

“Judging by the date on the tombstone — April 20, 2023 — he could have been killed near Bakhmut, like most of the prisoners recruited by the Wagner private military company,” the Mediazona report said.

Zubov’s sister Tatyana confirmed to the journalists that her brother had been released from prison to join Wagner in 2022 and had been killed at the front in early 2023.

Last year Kyiv Post reported cases of convicts responsible for multiple killings had been released to fight in Ukraine and later pardoned.

Nikolai Ogolobyak, from the Yaroslavl region of Russia, was sentenced to 20 years in 2008, along with four others, for the ritualistic murder of a group of teenagers. He was also freed in 2022 to serve with the Russian army and pardoned and in November, after being severely injured fighting in Ukraine, according to his father.


Sakhalin resident Denis Gorin, 44, was sentenced to 22 years for a 2018 murder and cannibalism but was released and sent to Ukraine. Kyiv Post reported in November that Gorin had been wounded and was recovering at a hospital in the Far East.

Also in November, Maxim Volkovo who had been released from a previous eight-year sentence for murder to serve with Wagner in Ukraine and then pardoned, was sentenced to seven years in prison for killing a drinking companion in Russia’s Primorye region, according to the Ostorozhno Novosti news channel.

The Kremlin has repeatedly acknowledged that prisoner recruits could “atone for their crimes on the battlefield” by fighting for Russia.

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