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In early May, Wagner paramilitary cartel head Evgeny Prigozhin published a video online that showed him standing in front of numerous dead bodies and shouting obscenities at Russia’s top military leadership, demanding they provide his forces with the ammo they need after months of heavy losses. Later that day, the catering tycoon announced that Wagner Group would withdraw from Bakhmut, where its forces have been locked in a struggle to gain ground for months. Soon afterward, the Russian authorities vowed to give Prigozhin the equipment he demands. Nevertheless, the mercenaries appear to have already abandoned some of their positions around Bakhmut. This is consistent with the story of a Russian soldier named Zaruyar Tetragrammaton Ar-Rakhim (he went by the name Alexey Kamilov until August 2022; more on that below). Tetragrammaton served in one of the Russian Defense Ministry units that were supposed to replace Wagner Group around Bakhmut. Wagner fighters in the area, however, mistook him for a Ukrainian intelligence officer and subjected him to hours of torture and abuse. Meduza is publishing a summary of Tetragrammaton’s story.
Content warning: This story contains descriptions of extreme violence.
I did everything I could to go to the front, including getting a new passport. That’s how, in August 2022, I went from being Alexey Rakhimovich Kamilov, a person with a documented disability, to Zaruyar Tetragrammaton Ar-Rakhim. And suddenly they didn’t have any medical records on me.
“Tetragrammaton” is the unspeakable name of God; you can Google it. But you won’t find anything about the name “Zaruyar” online, because I thought of it myself: I decided my last name would mean “solar protection.” And my middle name, Ar-Rakhim, was chosen because my father’s name was Rakhim, as well as because it’s one of the names of Allah; it translates to “merciful.” But in the army, they gave me the call sign “Gramophone.”
I was gradually drawn into occult practices in 2011. I realized then that I’m a slave at work and a slave at church. (I was Orthodox Christian.) Now I believe in Vedism and Ynglism — the Slavic deities and that kind of thing.
If you look at my past lives, I already have three wars under my belt. I spent a year deciding whether to join this one or not. My conscience was gnawing at me. It was like someone was nudging me: “Go, go.”
Besides, before the special military operation, I worked every job imaginable: as a guard at a private security firm, a locksmith, a ropemaker, a truck driver. It’s hard to get hired when you have a disability — and the army was promising 160,000 rubles [$2,046]. Plus, there was the fact that I wanted to see for myself these armed forces that have forgotten how to fight. When I realized where I had been sent, I wanted to cry. When I did my mandatory military service, things were, of course, different.
Before shipping out, I filled out a numerological chart for the special military operation (by my calculations, it should put an end to all wars on Earth), and on January 21, 2023, I signed a contract with the Defense Ministry. In February, I started serving in the medical company of Unit 24314 of the 10th Tank Regiment, and by April, they somehow transferred me to the Tatarstan-based “Alga” battalion, or the 72nd Motor Rifle Brigade, of the 3rd Army Corps to serve as a reconnaissance platoon commander.
I brought my dad’s silver cross with me [to the war]: it has eight points for the eight gods of the Slavic pantheon. And while the medical company was in Donetsk, I made myself another talisman: I contacted a local witch who still has spell books that belonged to her grandmother, and she wrote me a spell: “Wherever my dominion extends, come and take my soil. It will give you strength and give your enemies what they deserve.”
I read it three times as I took dirt from the 28th building on Uralska Street in Donetsk’s Kirovskyi District. I ripped my shoulder mark from my uniform, put everything together, tied it with a string, and hung the bag over my neck. I chose that address specifically: I once served on the Finnish border in a Vyborg border patrol unit called Kirov, and the holiday [Border Guard Day] is celebrated on May 28.
Maybe that soil is what saved me and allowed me to survive the Wagnerites’ torture. Because I wasn’t thinking of death or fear while it was happening — I just shut off. Even when they drenched me with gasoline.
It all began on April 8, 2023, when we arrived in the Bakhmut area to replace Wagner Group’s forces. They were supposedly about to leave, and we would take over their positions. One Wagner fighter whom I’d met at a transshipment point the previous day told me that on April 14, the “musicians’ contract with the Defense Ministry is coming to an end.”
So, when we reached the second line of defense — which is 15 kilometers [9 miles] from Bakhmut — it was the Wagnerites who assigned us all our tasks. They showed us where we could post ourselves, where the positions were. On the morning of April 8, we began clearing the village: I don’t know who left so much stuff behind, but ammunition was lying around in people’s homes, and lying in boxes, covered with sand. We found a bag of F-1 grenades, collected anti-tank guided missiles, rocket-propelled grenades. Plus, there were entire boxes of 7.62-mm cartridges [for Kalashnikov rifles]. We gave some of that stuff to the Wagner guys, because they asked us to; they were running low on ammunition, and they needed to keep fighting.
Closer to the evening, I reached the edge of the village, and I saw lights. I thought it was drones, and I headed towards them: I crossed railroad tracks, a corn field, reached a creek, and that’s when I saw that military equipment was being transported along the road to Bakhmut that we had been unable to cut off. It seemed liked Ukrainian troops. The lights that had drawn me there were vehicle headlights.
At around 10:00 p.m., on my way back, I heard a gunshot, and I went towards the sound. I thought, “I’ll go meet them — we haven’t been in touch with the artillery guys yet.” The weapon was sitting in the bushes, camouflaged. All around it were guys from a repair company. I said, “Hey, bro!” and walk over to their dugout. I ask the guy, “How do you shoot here, anyways?” I was curious. The other guys had shown me some reference points on a phone, but I still didn’t have my bearings.
I asked to use their radio to inform our base about the equipment transfer on that road in Bakhmut. Someone said: “Check and see if it’s ours or theirs.”
I started walking away, disappointed, and then I hear: “Let us tie you up already.”
“Where are your documents?”
“In my pocket.”
I had my military ID, my passport, and a photo from our unit on my phone. To this day, I don’t understand how they could have confused me with a Ukrainian spy. But they were suspicious: my passport had been replaced just a year earlier, and I had a badge from a Ukrainian Volunteer Corps fighter that a friend had taken as a “trophy” and given me as a gift. They didn’t understand what I was doing with the talisman on my neck, either. They couldn’t figure out if I was one of them or one of the enemy.
Then a Wagner fighter came. He was very aggressive: “Give me the phone or you’re gonna get it.” Cursing every other word. He looked at my documents and then requested something over the radio. And they told him: “It’s just some faggot.” That’s when I interjected: “You’ll be held responsible for this.”
About 10–15 minutes later, the rest of the Wagnerites arrived. I didn’t see who, exactly, because they had put a bag over my head, forced my body into the “Swallow” position, and tossed me in their bus. They drove me somewhere, and after they took me back out of the vehicle, they hit me really hard, either in the head or in the shoulder.
I didn’t black out, but everything felt like I was in a cartoon, as if my head had become separated from my body. I learned in the hospital later that I had a bruise on my shoulder, so they probably hit me in the shoulder.
After that, they took me into some kind of basement and started interrogating me: “How did you get here? Are you a deserter? Where are your weapons? What unit are you in?” I told them: “Hit me, beat me, whatever you want. But torture is banned in the Russian Federation.”
Then they transferred me to some other basement somewhere, where they started stabbing my eye with a knife, in the center of my eyelid. And they smeared some kind of chemical on my eyes. They started stinging immediately. Later, in the hospital, I was told it was a burn.
Then they brought me to another place and started intimidating me with fire. They started pouring something on the crown of my head; I was drenched in it, and it smelled like gasoline. Then the Wagner fighter flicked a lighter. And he started asking me questions while flicking it. “What do you know about the Kraken Regiment?” Maybe he thought I was a part of it. They undressed me, left me in my underwear, and put me in a cold basement. These people were clearly inhuman.
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All night, they took me from torture chamber to torture chamber and interrogated me. There were four places total. None of them introduced themselves. They didn’t say anything to me outside of the interrogations. Only one person asked me, while they were transporting me: “Are you alive?” I said: “I’m alive.” He didn’t hurt me, he just made me sing the Russian national anthem. Maybe he wanted to check whether I knew the words. So, I sang the USSR’s national anthem first, then the Russian one. He listened to me sing while we drove.
They took me around like that until they noticed there was something wrong with my eyes. Then they wrapped them up in a bandage and put me back in a basement. The last Wagner fighter who interrogated me was important-looking. He didn’t beat me or anything. He even put a warm blanket over me and wrapped up my feet. I was barefoot.
He scrolled through my phone: “Do you have kids? A wife? When did you sign your contract?” I told him everything: I’m divorced, my son is 14. At the end, he asked whether I have any problems with Wagner Group. And he complained that they hadn’t slept all night because of me — they had to work.
He gave me over to the military police, which started by asking me what monuments there are in the train station in my hometown, Oryol. They doubted me. And once they believed me, an ambulance came and took me to a trauma center, and then to a hospital in Bryanka. They found bruises on my kidneys, a contusion on my right shoulder, and chemical burns on my eyes.
They gave me a tube, and I took two breaths. But they didn’t treat me. So, on the third day, I left the hospital myself: I contacted the special purpose medical unit, and they evacuated me to Rostov, and then to Moscow. Now I’m in the Burdenko military hospital going through my post-injury medical evaluation. They promised to discharge me, to not send me back to the front. And I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to fight in an army like that, after what I witnessed there. I’ve worked off my karmic debt.
While this was all happening to me, my fellow servicemen tell me, I might have been recorded as AWOL. Because I still haven’t been paid for some reason. What’s more, my stuff disappeared after all the times they searched me, including my silver cross that my father had when he died of cancer. And my Tinkoff bank card.
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