Survivors Say Putin’s Private Army Filmed Sex Assault Victims Stripped Naked

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

ABUJA, Nigeria—Survivors of an armed raid say mercenaries from Putin’s private army sexually assaulted a dozen women and girls—at least one as young as 15— and humiliated them by using smart phones to film their naked bodies after the attack.

The soldiers from the Wagner Group are supposed to be in Mali in an advisory role but evidence continues to emerge of human rights abuses and massacres linked to the paramilitaries employed by President Putin’s close ally, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is also playing a key role in the invasion of Ukraine.

One of the victims told The Daily Beast that a Russian paramilitary hit her on the head using a gun after she refused to undress, causing her to pass out. When she regained consciousness, she found herself lying naked on the ground beside about five other women who were also undressed.

“We were surrounded by white soldiers,” said 23-year-old Maryam, whose real name The Daily Beast is choosing not to disclose. “Some of them were holding phones and taking photographs of us.”

Witnesses say the raid began at around 8 AM on Sept. 4 in the village of Nia Oura village in Mali’s central Mopti region. Diarra, 30, tells The Daily Beast he was getting ready to leave for his farm when Russian mercenaries, accompanied by soldiers from the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA) and hunters from the traditional Dozo fraternity, stormed his compound and began to shoot in the air.

“As they were shooting they were calling us traitors, claiming that we were working with terrorists to attack them,” said Diarra who, like other two other witnesses, The Daily Beast is identifying by first name to protect him from possible retribution. “They kept saying they’ll deal with us.”

After about 30 minutes of sporadic shooting, Diarra says, the paramilitaries—who were part of the infamous Wagner Group—ordered the arrest of the men in the compound leaving only women and children behind.

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“The white soldiers ordered FAMA and the Dozo hunters to take all the men to Sofara [a town located 6 miles from Nia Oura,where Wagner's central base is located],” said Diarra, who managed to escape with two other men to the nearby bush after hearing the Russians order their arrest. “I heard one of the white soldiers shouting ‘leave the women for us.’”

As Diarra and his two neighbors made their way back home after spending more than two hours hiding from the invaders, they said they heard the voices of women screaming in the compound as Wagner mercenaries molested and abused them. The three men waited on the road until they were sure the Russians had departed before proceeding to the compound.

“When we returned, we met the women crying,” said Diarra. “Some of them had blood on their clothes.”

There were about 12 women and girls in the compound, according to Diarra, who said all of them had been sexually assaulted by Wagner paramilitaries who lined them up afterwards and took video of the naked victims.

“The women said the white soldiers stripped them, raped them and then brought out their smartphones which they used to video the women’s naked bodies.” said Diarra. “The women said they were treated like animals.”

Since Wagner paramilitaries, who have been deployed on a series of offensives against Islamist extremists, arrived in Mali late last year after a lucrative deal was struck with its new military junta, they have been repeatedly linked to a number of atrocities across the restive nation. As the Daily Beast first reported, many of the men who cut their teeth fighting for Wagner in Africa have since been redeployed to the illegal war in Ukraine.

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In August, the NGO Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) reported that close to 500 civilians had died in incidents involving Malian forces and Wagner since the start of 2022. The most heinous event occurred in March in the village of Moura where about 300 men were killed over a four-day period in a massacre involving mercenaries from the private military company.

Another survivor of the raid on the compound, Seydou, 37, told The Daily Beast that he was arrested by Dozo hunters, who accused him of working for jihadists, blindfolded him and held him in Wagner's Sofara base until they were convinced he had no ties to Islamist extremists. When he returned home, he said found that his 15-year-old cousin had been sexually assaulted by the Russians.

“My cousin told me two white soldiers raped her inside her own room and in front of their colleagues,” said Seydou, who was detained for five hours. “After that, they took photographs of her naked body.”

Not far away from where Seydou and his cousin lives, another group of women were assembled in a compound near a primary school by Wagner mercenaries who ordered them to undress before taking photographs of them, according to a local trader who witnessed the incident.

“The women who did not immediately obey the order to undress were beaten by the white soldiers and they had their clothes torn apart,” said Boubakar, who watched the event unfold from the window of his sitting room situated opposite the compound where the incident occurred. “It was heartbreaking to watch.”

Neither the Malian government nor Prigozhin responded to The Daily Beast’s request for comments on the alleged rape and abuse of women in Nia Oura. Emails sent to the spokesperson of the Malian government and to Concord Management, a company majority-owned by Prigozhin, went unanswered.

The Malian authorities maintain that a thousand or more Russian paramilitaries are mere instructors and not deployed in combat roles. The government remains silent on the atrocities in Nia Oura.

Locals say the agony inflicted on them by the Wagner Group may never go away.

“My cousin has been traumatized for weeks and cries every single day,” said Seydou. “I pray she is able to heal someday.”

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