KYIV — Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death in a Russian jet crash has been greeted in Ukraine with dark humor and jubilation.
“I am thrilled that people who killed or were responsible for killing thousands of Ukrainians have died. And they will no longer kill any Ukrainian, nor will they escape punishment, which would be very likely if they survived,” Ukrainian media expert Otar Dovzhenko told POLITICO.
Many others reacted with memes and sarcastic comments, after the fiery plane crash which apparently killed Prigozhin and a number of his top Wagner lieutenants.
“Well, Prigozhin specifically asked to send him more weapons,” Ukrainian standup comedian Anton Tymoshenko joked in a Facebook post, connecting Prigozhin’s battlefield video demands for more weapons and one of the versions of what happened in the jet crash, that a Russian air defense missile shot it down.
Prigozhin’s death was also widely cheered as a great present for Ukraine’s Independence Day, celebrated every year on August 24.
“The show-stopping removal of Prigozhin and the Wagner command two months after the coup attempt is Putin’s signal to Russian elites ahead of the 2024 elections: ‘Fight! Disloyalty equals death,’” Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian president’s office head adviser, said in a statement.
Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenaries fought in Ukraine until May, when they finally occupied what was left of Bakhmut, a town in the Donetsk region that was razed to the ground during nine months of brutal fighting.
For months Prigozhin sent his fighters into deadly attacks, exhausting Ukrainian positions in what Kyiv described as “meat waves.” At the same time, the Wagner chief continued to publicly criticize Russia’s defense ministry for sabotaging his military gains and not sending enough shells and ammunition.
Wagner soldiers also gained a notorious reputation for mercilessly decapitating Ukrainian soldiers and killing civilians.
After Russia lost more than 20,000 soldiers fighting for Bakhmut, Prigozhin withdrew Wagner forces from Ukraine and rose up against President Vladimir Putin on June 23. Even though Prigozhin aborted his coup — while closing in on Moscow — in a deal brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, it weakened Putin’s image in the international arena.
In light of the humiliation for the Kremlin, Ukraine’s chief spy Kyrylo Budanov predicted Prigozhin wouldn’t be around much longer.
“We are aware that the FSB was charged with a task to assassinate him. Will they be successful in doing that? We’ll see with time. In any case, all of such potential assassination attempts will not be fast. It will take them some time to have the proper approaches and to reach the stage when they’re ready,” Budanov told the War Zone.