A Wagner mercenary's tale of ice, blood, and desertion

STORY: It reads like a Hollywood thriller - the tale being spun by a former mercenary commander, Andrei Medvedev, who fought with Russia's renowned Wagner Group in Ukraine - now apparently a deserter and seeking asylum in Norway.

A tale of alleged abuse, brutal killings of Russian deserters, and a dramatic escape through the Arctic across breaking ice and with bullets flying.

This is Norway's border with Russia.

And now, a rights group called Gulagu.net, which says it helped the man flee Russia, has shared his interviews with Reuters.

"On July 6, 2022, I signed a contract with this company and departed for Ukraine. I was assigned to the 7th Assault Squadron, 4th platoon, where I was made commander of the 1st squad. There, in August, they started bringing prisoners from various prisons in the Russian Federation to serve in the military. Overall, their attitude changed when the prisoners arrived. They no longer counted us as human beings."

"The company changed my contract unilaterally. Without asking for my opinion, they extended it to six months and then to eight months. After that, I left without authorization because I didn't like the things that started happening there."

"I know for sure about three cases where prisoners who tried to run away from hospitals after being wounded were shot dead. Also, 10 people were shot on the training ground in front of prisoners who just arrived. It was done as a deterrent: 'They are traitors, they refuse (to fight) - look what happens to them.'"

Reuters cannot verify Medvedev's story and he hasn't disclosed where exactly in Ukraine he fought, although these recent videos show one of the battlefields that the Wagner Group says it played a strong hand in: Russia's claimed capture of Soledar.

The mercenary outfit is also well known for recruiting out of Russian prisons. Its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, seen here granting freedom to convicts-turned-mercenaries that had served out their contracts.

Medvedev, who is an orphan and once served in the Russian army, also served time in prison himself before joining Wagner.

Prigozhin has called him "dangerous" in a written statement, that he had "mistreated prisoners," and that he worked in a Norwegian unit for the company.

Medvedev, meanwhile says a video that surfaced in November purporting to show Wagner mercenaries executing a man with a sledgehammer, was done against a member of his unit.

He hid in Russia for some time, hunted by the FSB and Wagner's own internal security. This is what he says happened next, as he attempted to cross into Norway:

"I climbed over two fences. I was wearing a white dressing gown for camouflage. I got over two fences and went into the forest. When I was stepping out onto the ice of a lake or a bay, I heard a dog barking. I turned around and saw people with flashlights about 150 meters away from me running towards me. I ran back the other way along the forest and then... I wanted to run out onto the icy lake but saw that there were places where the water still hadn't frozen. I ran along the forest line, closer to the edge of the lake where the ice was thicker. I heard two gunshots; the bullets whizzed by. I smashed my mobile phone and threw it into the forest. I turned around and ran across the lake towards the light of the houses."

"I'm afraid of dying in agony. What do they do? They kill. I am a talking head to them, why do they need all of that? I think it's a miracle that I managed to escape."

Medvedev's lawyer in Norway says that when he crossed the border he ran to a house, and the woman who lived there helped him call the police.

Norwegian authorities have acknowledged that a foreign citizen was arrested after crossing the border illegally.