As Wagner forces take over key military sites in a southern Russia town, Ukrainians hope the infighting will offer them some relief

Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - Kyiv residents told AFP on Saturday that they were “very happy” with the Wagner mercenary group’s mutiny against Moscow and hoped the infighting would weaken Russian troops on the battlefield.

Wagner mercenaries who have been spearheading much of the fighting in Ukraine have rebelled against Russia’s military leaders and are advancing north towards Moscow after seizing a key military base in the south.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to defeat the revolt and head off the threat of civil war.

People on the streets of the Ukrainian capital reacted with delight.

“I expected something” like this to happen “but not so fast,” said Ilya Tsvirkun, 21. “I thought it would all start after the war ends. But it started earlier and it’s very good.”

He said he thought Putin “will withdraw some troops” from Ukraine to help tackle the mutiny at home, making it easier for Ukrainian forces.

- ‘A lot of fun’ -

Kyiv launched its counter-offensive earlier this month, hoping to take back territory occupied by Russia in the south and east of the country.

While Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s outfit fought at the forefront of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, in recent months it has engaged in a bitter feud with Moscow’s military leadership.

Prigozhin has repeatedly blamed Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, for his fighters’ deaths.

Kyiv resident Bogdan Teodorovskiy, 19, called the infighting “a lot of fun”.

“We just have to watch, and we are cheering for both sides,” he said, referring to Wagner and the Russian army. “I hope they leave us alone and compete better with each other.”

Prigozhin’s forces, bolstered by tens of thousands of prison recruits, played a central role in Russia’s capture of the town of Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk, the longest and bloodiest battle of the conflict.

Wagner has since withdrawn from the area, making way for the regular Russian army, but fighting continues around the town and Ukrainian troops have been attacking its flanks.

Mariya, 22, said she believed the infighting would have an impact on the battlefield in Ukraine.

“Perhaps now some Wagner forces will withdraw (elsewhere), and the regular Russian army will be there. And they, as we know, are not so cold-blooded, and they may be easier to defeat,” she said.

At first, she thought there “was still some kind of agreement between the (Russian) defence ministry and the Wagner group, just to distract attention from our counter-offensive… to strengthen their forces.”

But she also wonders if the mutiny is a media stunt.

“That’s why I think we have to follow the news, and if something serious is really happening there, then it could be a real coup,” she said.

-‘End of misery’-

Wagner “has started its offensive, they are going to reach Moscow,” said Mykhailo, 50.

“I think that there is every reason for our armed forces to win. I think it will weaken the Russian troops, it will weaken the internal political forces of Russia. I think it’s great,” he said.

A local resident reacts outside a 24-storey building partially destroyed following a Russian missiles strike on Kyiv

Olga, 45, said she hoped the conflict between the Wagner group and the Russian army “will be the end of this war, and that this will be the end of our misery and grief”.

Amid the turmoil, three people were killed and 11 wounded in Kyiv after Russian air strikes across the country overnight, Ukraine said on Saturday.