Russia is actively recruiting women from Russian penal colonies to fight in the war with Ukraine to fill the ranks after suffering continuing significant losses.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine's military intelligence service (HUR), told the Kyiv Post that the Kremlin is not only willing to recruit female prisoners for support roles.

“We are not only talking about auxiliary units, but combat units as well, if needed,” Yusov said.

Women prisoners are promised salaries and the opportunity to be released from prison and to return home after their service. The convicted women, many who are serving long sentences, agree to the offer, because they are convinced by propaganda that they will return home alive, but dreams only come true for some.

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According to Yusov, relatively few Russian women prisoners return home alive and unharmed.

“Most of the women prisoners recruited by Russia have been killed or returned with serious injuries,” he says.

The practice of giving convicts the option to fight in exchange for freedom dates back to the days of Wagner PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash last August.

However, the conditions attached to service have changed. The freeing of prisoners after 6-month’s service in Ukraine has been canceled, Andriy Yusov tells Kyiv Post.

The increase in women recruits may be because of a decrease in the number of male prisoners willing to serve in these units as, since September 2023, they have been obliged to sign long-term Defense Ministry contracts with the Russian after serving in “Storm V” convict-manned assault units at the six-month point. Previously, they would receive a full pardon at this point and could then resign from military service.

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The pilot forwarded documents to Ukraine related to the activities of his military unit as well as private photos of the command staff of the 22nd Heavy Bombing Aviation Division, HUR said.

“As of today, prisoners in the Russian Federation sign contracts on a general basis. That is, the contract specifies a term of up to 5 years, but the contract is automatically extended until the end of the so-called "SVO" [special military operation],” Yusov said.

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When asked by Kyiv Post about the impact of recruiting Russian prisoners on the number of personnel in the Russian army, the HUR representative replied that “the impact on the number of personnel is not minimal.”

Russian army lost fewer soldiers in March than in February

According to the UK’s April 7 Defence intelligence update, Russian forces lost fewer soldiers on the battlefield in March in comparison with February.

The average daily number of Moscow’s troops killed and wounded in Ukraine in March 2024 fell by 74 people per day to an average of 913 suffered during the first quarter of the year.

The agency attributes this to a combination of a decrease in offensive action by Russian forces, partly during a period of reorganization and re-equipment after the capture of Avdiivka and a need to reduce the reports of military deaths during the Russian elections.

The level of casualties is put down to Russia’s persistent tactics of trying to force breakthroughs by means of mass attacks against Ukraine’s frontline defensive positions.

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