Russian President Putin has repeatedly used prisoners convicted of heinous violent crimes – rapists, murderers, cannibals and serial killers – to fight in his illegal invasion of Ukraine.

He has then rewarded them for their service in his “special military operation” with pardons, often releasing them back into the communities they terrorized.

In August 2021 a young mother of two, Anna Koshulko a resident of Primorye near Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East, was beaten, raped, stabbed and strangled in a garage by another local, Georgy Polivaiko.

According to news reports at the time immediately after committing the murder, Polivaiko stole the girl’s car and her mobile phone, which he threw away, then went with friends to swim in the sea. When they asked where the car came from, he said it was his mother's.

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The killer was arrested on the same day but not before he had rammed the police car and injured one of the officers trying to detain him.

He was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment in June 2022 for murder and rape. As reported on the Telegram channel of the Vladivostok news channel News.vl and the independent Russian news site The Insider, Koshulko’s husband, Alexander, received a letter from the regional Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) on Oct. 31 2023 informing him that Povilaiko had been paroled four days earlier after signing a contract with the Ministry of Defense to serve in Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine – just over a year into his sentence.

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The FSIN letter informing Alexander Koshulko of Polivaiko’s release. Source: News.vl Telegrame

For Alexander Koshulko even worse news came in early January when neighbors said they saw Povilaiko in the street and asked the victim’s husband how the killer had been released and apparently pardoned only three months after his initial release from custody.

Koshulko seemed bewildered more than angry as he told the Vladivostok news site:

“He didn’t just kill her – he attacked her with a knife. Raped, killed, raped, killed. He didn't just take her and strangle her. She was covered in bruises, she was all beaten up, covered in blood, all blue. Just awful. Just like that... and she screamed – no one came out to help. Nobody...”

He mused further on the injustice of it all: “[How can] a person who still has half his life until retirement come home, as a hero of the Military District and receive all the benefits and disability. I just don’t have words, I’m hysterical, how is this possible?! My wife doesn’t live, but this creature lives.

“He lives in Chasovitina (less than 6 kilometers from Kushulko’s home). In a Hotel,” Kushulko continued. “Neighbors call me and say how? He walks around bending his fingers! He signed a contract at the end of October 2023 and is already home, less than three months have passed!”

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The reason for Povilaiko’s return and release after the relatively short period of service is not clear. It may be because he was wounded or has other health issues but to be pardoned after three months’ service and to return unannounced underlines the illogical way Putin’s “catch and release” pardon system is implemented.

According to the Novayagazeta.eu news site Koshulko has petitioned the Russian authorities demanding Povilayko’s return to prison but has yet to receive a response.

In November, 44-year-old Denys Horyn – a cannibal who killed at least four people from the Sakhalin Region was released after serving less than half of his 22-year sentence after participating in the war in Ukraine. The relatives and friends of his victims were also unaware that he had been freed and pardoned.

Dmitry Karavaichik, a notorious drug dealer who was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2018 was pardoned by President Putin at the end of 2023 and later appointed to an NGO leadership position after serving with the Wagner PMC in Ukraine.

As previously reported by Kyiv Post a number of those pardoned and released have committed new crimes after returning from Ukraine. It was reported in early October that almost 30 murders had been committed by returnees, many of which were frightening in their savagery.

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