(CNN) Two Russian men claiming to be former Wagner Group commanders told a human rights activist that they killed children and civilians during their time in Ukraine.
The claims were made in video interviews with Gulagu.net, a human rights organization that targets corruption and torture in Russia.
In video interviews posted online, former Russian convicts Azamat Uldarov and Alexey Savichev — who were both pardoned by Russian presidential decrees last year, according to Gulagu.net — described their actions in Ukraine, during the Russian invasion.
CNN could not independently verify their claims or identities in the videos but obtained Russian criminal documents showing they were released on presidential pardons in September and August of 2022.
Uldarov, who appeared to have been drinking, detailed how he shot and killed a five- or six-year-old girl.
“(It was) a management decision. I wasn’t allowed to let anyone out alive, because my command was to kill anything in my way,” he said.
According to Gulagu.net, the testimonies were given to the founder and Russian dissident Vladimir Osechkin within a week. It said Uldarov and Savichev were in Russia when they spoke.
“I want Russia and other countries to know the truth. I don’t want war and bloodshed. You see I have a cigarette in this hand. I followed orders with this hand and killed those young,” said Uldarov, describing his motivation for the interview.
The Wagner Group is a private Russian mercenary organization fighting in Ukraine, led by a Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.
It has recruited thousands of warriors from Russian prisons, offers freedom and money after a six month tour. Western intelligence officials and prison advocacy groups estimate that between 40,000 and 50,000 men were recruited.
Uldarov said in the eastern Ukrainian city of Soledar and Bakhmut — who saw some of the fiercest battle — The Wagner mercenaries “were given the order to exterminate all.”
“There is one above all the commanders — it is Prigozhin, who told us not to let anyone get out of there and exterminate everything,” he added. CNN has it previously reported with former Wagner fighters making similar claims.
At one point in the interview, Savichev described how they “got the order to kill any male 15 years of age or older.”
He also talked about getting orders to ‘sweep’ a house. “It doesn’t matter if there are civilians there or not. The house needs to be swept. I didn’t give a f**k who was inside,” he said.
“Whether it’s a hut or a house, the point is to make sure there’s not even one living person left inside,” he said. “You can condemn me for this. I won’t object. That’s your right. But I also want to live.”
Savichev said that Wagner fighters who did not obey orders were killed.
Wagner Group chief Prigozhin confirmed on his Telegram channel that he had watched parts of the video, and threatened revenge against two former Wagner fighters. “As for what (Osechkin) shot, I looked at the pieces of video that I was able to see,” he said. “I can say the following: if even one of these accusations against me is confirmed, I am ready to be held accountable according to any law.”
But Prigozhin said that “if nothing is confirmed, I will send a list of 30-40 people who spit on me like Osechkin (there is a whole list of them, including scum who fled to Russia) to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine is obliged to hand me over for a ‘fair trial,’ so to speak.”
“They will not be “civilians” for us, and especially not children, whom we have never touched and will not touch. This is a blatant lie. These people (spreading lies) are our enemies, and we will deal with them in a special way.”
Earlier, Prigozhin said on Telegram: “About killing children, of course, no one shot civilians or children, absolutely no one needed it. We went there to save them from the regime they were under.”
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said in a tweet on Monday that the group should be held accountable.
“Russian terrorists have confessed to many murders of Ukrainian children in Bakhmut and Soledar. Confession is not enough. There must be punishment. Hard and fair. And it will surely happen. How many crimes have been committed?” he said.
In February, CNN spoke to two former Wagner fighters which described how recruited Wagner convicts were pushed to the front line in a human wave, reminiscent of World War I charges. Deserters, or those who refuse orders are killed and there is no evacuation of the wounded, they said.
In January, the US Treasury Department designated the Wagner Group as a significant transnational criminal organizationsand imposed new sanctions on a transnational network that supports it.
The US State Department simultaneously announced a number of sanctions aimed at “targeting a range of key Wagner infrastructure — including an aviation company used by Wagner, a Wagner propaganda organization, and companies in front of Wagner,” according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.