Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia’s most powerful mercenary group, said goodbye to ex-convicts who served their contracts in Ukraine on Thursday and urged them to avoid the temptation to kill when they return to civilian life.

The Wagner Group, originally made up of battle-hardened veterans of the Russian armed forces, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic and Mali, as well as Ukraine.

After President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, Prigozhin emerged from the shadows and recruited thousands of men from prisons, offering them the chance for freedom in exchange for serving in some of Ukraine’s most dangerous battles. .

Prigozhin, who has been sanctioned by Western countries for his role in Wagner, was shown in footage provided by the state-run RIA news agency shaking hands with the first group of convicts to be released after serving six months.

«Don’t drink too much, don’t take drugs, don’t rape women, (sex) only for love or for money, as they say,» Prigozhin was shown telling the ex-convicts, who laughed. «The police should treat you with respect.»

“You have learned a lot, first of all: how to kill the enemy,” Prigozhin told them on a bus. “I really don’t want you to practice that skill in forbidden territory… If you want to kill the enemy again, go back.”

The former prisoners, some dressed in black and waving their heavily tattooed hands, were shown being flown in from an undisclosed location that RIA said was in Russia’s southern Krasnodar region. One appeared to be carrying a pet of some kind.

Prigozhin, sometimes nicknamed «Putin’s Chef» for his sprawling catering businesses, is the most powerful of a group of Putin allies who now control what are essentially private armies recruiting top military officers, ex-spies and convicts.