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Northern Russian Village Shaken After Discharged Wagner Fighter Accused Of Killing Six People

One of two houses that were burned out in the Russian village of Derevyanoe this month in incidents that left half a dozen people dead.
One of two houses that were burned out in the Russian village of Derevyanoe this month in incidents that left half a dozen people dead.

DEREVYANNOYE, Russia -- On the morning of August 1, this quiet northern settlement woke up to a horrifying scene. Two wooden houses in separate parts of the village were gutted by fire. Inside one, police found the bodies of two men. In the second, they found the bodies of a married couple, the man’s brother, and a pensioner who was staying with the family. All six had been stabbed to death.

The same day, police arrested two recidivist convicts -- Maksim Bochkaryov, 38, and Igor Sofonov, 37 -- on suspicion of murder and arson. Investigators said the suspects, who deny the accusations, were “extremely drunk” when they were arrested near the second burned-out house.

The shocking crimes made even more headlines when it was reported that Sofonov was a former fighter in the Wagner mercenary group who had been recruited in prison, wounded in Ukraine, and had returned to Russia with a pardon. Despite the fact that doctors had been unable to remove all the shrapnel from his body, Sofonov had planned to enlist in the army and return to the front, his relatives told RFE/RL.

“I didn’t expect anything like this,” Sofonov’s sister, Aleksandra, said. “I think he was led into this. If he was involved, that is the only explanation. He wouldn’t do such a thing on his own. There was no reason. I can’t make sense of it.”

The mass killing in Derevyannoye is one of a growing number of criminal incidents allegedly involving pardoned convicts returning from Ukraine. According to the Russian news outlet Agentsvo, at least 11 former Wagner fighters have been accused of murder after returning from the war since the beginning of this year.

Returning Wagner Mercenaries Accused Of Rash Of Violent Crimes
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In June, before he orchestrated an abortive mutiny, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin reported that 32,000 former prisoners had returned to Russia with clemency after serving in Ukraine, claiming that very few of them had committed crimes after doing so.

A former Wagner fighter who has been identified only as Sergei S. was arrested in May in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk on suspicion of raping two minor girls.

In March, a Wagner veteran named Ivan Rossomakhin reportedly confessed to stabbing an elderly woman to death in the Kirov region town of Novy Burets, some 800 kilometers east of Moscow. He had returned from Ukraine just 10 days earlier.

Troubled Town

Derevyannoye -- the name means ‘wooden’ -- is a quiet but troubled town of tree-lined streets and old wooden houses about 25 kilometers south of the capital of Russia’s Karelia region, Petrozavodsk. It stretches out along the stony shores of Lake Onega. About 1,000 people call it home.

“There are a lot of drug addicts in the village,” said a local man named Aleksandr. “A lot of them. There are a lot of released convicts too. The owner of the cafe Sretensky Dvorik is one himself and he invites his friends to the village and sets them up with farm work. Before he came, it was a quiet place.”

On August 4, police found the body of 45-year-old Yana Ligorkova, who had been missing since July 20, partially buried in an abandoned cowshed in the village. They arrested an 34-year-old man, whose name was not released, in connection with the case and charged him with murder.

Locals told RFE/RL that they suspected Ligorkova’s killing was drug-related.

'Nothing Of Value'

The sister of one of the victims of the mass killing said it happened late at night.

“My brother and his daughter were asleep,” Irina Zhamoidina said. “His son was watching television. When he didn’t open the door, they broke in.”

A member of Russia's Investigative Committee examines one of the crime scenes in Primorye.
A member of Russia's Investigative Committee examines one of the crime scenes in Primorye.

Zhamoidina’s brother, Artyom Tereshchenko, 39, and his 71-year-old father were killed. The two children – aged 9 and 12 -- were able to escape from the burning building, local media reported. Tereshchenko’s wife was working the night shift at a nearby hospital.

“The children were witnesses,” she said. “My nephew immediately recognized Bochkaryov.”

She said she had no idea why the intruders came to the house. “There was nothing there to steal,” she said. “Nothing of value.”

Maksim Bochkaryov was well known in Derevyannoye. A longtime resident of the village, he had served several prison terms for serious crimes, including rape and murder. He was last released in 2017 and had lived in the settlement for six years “relatively quietly,” neighbors said.

Maksim Bochkaryov (file photo)
Maksim Bochkaryov (file photo)

“I’m sure Bochkaryov is to blame,” said one local man who served time in prison with both Bochkaryov and Sofonov. “He is a violent person. An idiot. He dragged Igor into this. Got him drunk.”

“He sold drugs, and the police did nothing about it,” claimed a local woman. “He was always high. People were afraid of him. They complained about him all the time, but the police did nothing.”

Bochkaryov’s wife and daughter did not respond to inquiries from RFE/RL.

'No One Needs Me'

A Wagner recruiter signed up Igor Sofonov last year when he was serving time for theft, robbery, drug use, and attempted murder at the Obukhovo prison in St. Petersburg. Like tens of thousands of other convicts across Russia, he was promised good money and a pardon if he fought for six months in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In September 2022, Sofonov was seriously wounded in combat, Aleksandra told RFE/RL. After a long hospitalization, he was sent back to Russia earlier this spring. He moved in with his mother and unsuccessfully tried to find a job while he threaded Russia’s bureaucracy in an effort to replace his passport and other documents that were lost or destroyed when he was wounded.

“I’ve seen blood and meat,” he said in an audio message to a friend that RFE/RL obtained. “Now I’m going to get my life in order, and then I’m going back to the front. I have decided to change my life. I’m not going to mess around with drugs and sluts anymore. I don’t want that anymore.”

Late last month, Sofonov arrived in the area of Derevyannoye to visit his sister and her children. It was the first time the siblings had seen each other in four years, Aleksandra said.

“I didn’t notice any aggression in him,” she said of the four days they spent together mushroom hunting and playing with the kids. “He didn’t talk much about the war. He was cheerful. He smiled and played with the children.”

Igor Sofonov (file photo)
Igor Sofonov (file photo)

One story he did tell about the war was unforgettable, she said.

“He described a young man who was cleaning his weapon,” she said. “He had obviously never held a gun before in his life…. He carelessly hit the trigger and blew off his own head.”

On the evening of July 31, shortly before Sofronov left to go drinking with Bochkaryov, whom he had met in prison, Aleksandra had a serious conversation with her brother, she said, in a bid to persuade him not to go back to Ukraine.

“We were sitting around, and he was smoking,” she recalled. She asked him why he wanted to return to the war.

“He said: ‘I want to prove to people that I am good. I feel like no one needs me,’” she said.

A friend of Sofonov’s who served with him in Ukraine told RFE/RL that Sofonov planned to marry a nurse he had met while recuperating in the Russian-occupied eastern city of Luhansk. He planned to save his money and buy a house with her there.

“Igor was looking for a house in Luhansk,” the man said. “He had pretty solid plans. On August 1, he planned to come to St. Petersburg to apply [to Wagner] for his compensation for being wounded. Then he planned to sign a contract with the Defense Ministry.”

“Why would he commit murder when he had such concrete plans?” he added.

Sofonov’s sister clings to hope that her brother was not involved in the Derevyannoye killings. If he was, she insisted, it was not premeditated.

“People are writing that he is an animal or a vampire,” Aleksandra said. “He is not an animal or a vampire. He is nothing like that. The only thing I can think of is that he had some sort of mental breakdown.”

“This has been really hard for us,” she added. “For one thing, I see the relatives of that woman who was left alone with two children around here. What can she be thinking? What are they thinking?”

“Tomorrow I have to go to work,” she concluded. “And I don’t know how I am going to look anyone in the eye.”

Adapted by RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson. This story is based on reporting by correspondents from RFE/RL’s North.Realities on the ground in Russia. Their names are being withheld for their protection.

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