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Russian prisons are actively seeking volunteers to fight in Moscow’s war on neighbouring Ukraine, say human rights activists.

Olga Romanova said suspects and defendants were being recruited with the promise that, in exchange, the authorities would drop criminal proceedings.

In a Facebook post, a Russian civil rights activist based in Berlin cited examples from pretrial detention centres in the Moscow area.

“But I think it has started everywhere,’’ said Ms Romanova, a specialist on prisoners’ rights in Russia.

Moscow depends on volunteers as general conscription has not been introduced to fill the ranks of its armed forces fighting in Ukraine in the invasion that began in February.

In many areas, officials are posting street advertisements for people to fight in the war may indicate a shortage of personnel at the front. Cities and regions are currently forming their own battalions.

In the Russian judicial system, almost all indictments end in a guilty verdict, meaning suspects and defendants appear to be given a choice between war or prison.

The founder of, a project created to combat violence in Russian prisons, Vladimir Ossetschkin, confirmed the recruitment practices in prisons from France, where he is living in exile.

He said there were indications of the practice from St. Petersburg, Ryazan, Tver and Bryansk.

Russian media have been reporting on the search for volunteers in the nation’s many penal camps since July, according to the Meduza website, which said Wagner mercenary group was recruiting convicts.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wanted Kremlin businessman and backer of Wagner, personally recruited volunteers in prison camps, the Mediazona website reported.

The prisoners were said to have been promised monthly pay of 100,000 roubles ($1,625), bonuses, payments to their families in the event of death, and an amnesty.