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Wagner Chief Prigozhin Remembered As "Great Man", Year After Russia revolt

Nearly a year after Yevgeny Prigozhin led his Wagner mercenaries in a bold rebellion against Russia's military leadership, residents of Moscow reflect on his controversial legacy with a mix of respect and admiration for the late renegade.

The mercenary chief met a tragic end in a mysterious airplane crash just two months after orchestrating the brief mutiny on June 23-24, 2023. Despite challenging President Vladimir Putin's long-standing authority, Prigozhin and his Wagner Group continue to hold sway in public opinion.

"He did a lot for Russia during a challenging time," remarked Alexander Ulyanov, a 60-year-old caretaker, describing Prigozhin as a "great man" who commanded admiration for his leadership.

Under Prigozhin's command, Wagner played a pivotal role in some of Russia's most intense military engagements in Ukraine, including the grueling battle for the devastated city of Bakhmut in the east.

"The organization he built was known for its iron discipline," Ulyanov added, drawing parallels to revered historical figures like Mikhail Kutuzov, who led Russian forces during the Napoleonic Wars.

"He lives on in our hearts," Ulyanov concluded, emphasizing Prigozhin's enduring impact on public memory.

Originally a hotdog vendor and later a convicted criminal, Prigozhin's rise was intertwined with his business ventures catering to the Kremlin in the 1990s. Known as "Putin's chef," his influence expanded with lucrative government contracts, culminating in the establishment of the Wagner Group in 2014 to support Russian paramilitaries in Ukraine.

Following his untimely death, which the Kremlin denied involvement in, Putin acknowledged Prigozhin's entrepreneurial talents while acknowledging his controversial decisions.

The rebellion led by Prigozhin saw his forces seize control of Russia's army headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and engage in combat, advancing towards Moscow until a mediated settlement brokered by Belarus halted the uprising after nearly 24 hours.

"It was a frightening experience," recalled Svetlana, a 42-year-old English teacher from Rostov, reflecting on the turmoil. "I didn't know what would happen next."

While opinions remain divided, "Teddy Boy," a 41-year-old American fighter with ties to pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, expressed admiration for Prigozhin's courage to voice dissenting opinions.

"I may not agree with him entirely, but I would have respected him," Teddy Boy remarked, highlighting Prigozhin's ability to articulate sentiments that resonate with many, yet are often left unspoken.

Prigozhin's legacy continues to spark debate and reflection, underscoring the complexities of his impact on Russia's contemporary history and the enduring questions surrounding his final chapter.


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