The number of graves at a cemetery used by Russia's notorious mercenary Wagner Group has gone up over the last two months, according to satellite images.
A photograph taken by Maxar Technologies on January 24 shows at least 121 burial plots in a section of the cemetery allotted to fighters from the private military company.
An image of the same area taken on November 24 shows around 17 graves, suggesting that there has been a sevenfold increase in the last two months, according to an NBC News analysis of the site on the outskirts of the village of Bakinskaya, southwestern Russia.
The apparent expansion at the site, which is situated around 200 miles from the border with Crimea, comes after Wagner Group fighters were credited by Russia's defense ministry earlier this month with taking the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, which saw some of the war's most intense combat.
The head of the Wagner GroupWagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said troops from his irregular private army had taken the salt-mining town two days before the official announcement. He later gripped that the Russian military was constantly trying to steal Wagner's victory. Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and former restaurateur, has recruited former prisoners as soldiers for service in Russia's war on Ukraine, promising bounties and pardons in exchange for service. Wagner Group previously provided assistance to the Russian military during conflicts in Syria and Libya.
Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine's forces in the east, said that his country's troops had moved away from the city to previously prepared defense lines in order to preserve the lives of the personnel. He said that Ukraine had inflicted huge losses on Russian soldiers that were comparable to the losses of the aggressor in the two Chechen wars. The claim was not independently verified by NBC News.
Two weeks ago, similar aerial photos taken around the nearby city of Bakhmut showed the destruction of ruined buildings and bomb craters in the strategically significant city, by comparing the same areas pictured in August and then again in January. These images were released by Maxar Technologies.
The U.S. government said last week that it will designate Wagner Group as a significant transnational criminal organization and impose further sanctions against the organization and its support network.
The Wagner GroupWagner Group did not comment on the satellite images and video footage.