A spokesman for Orenburg prisons service said he had left of his own volition. A family friend spoke of job cuts and said he looked for a new job for about two years

“There is no place to work,” the family friend said. “You can’t earn more than 10,000 roubles ($170)(a month) here.”

When fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Kabunin saw a job opportunity.


The grave of Russian private military contractor Valery Dzyuba, who was said to be killed in Syria, is pictured at a cemetery near Orenburg
The grave of Russian private military contractor Valery Dzyuba, who was said to be killed in Syria, is pictured at a cemetery near the city of Orenburg, in the southern Urals, Russia September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Maria Tsvetkova


Moscow denies deploying active service troops in Ukraine or providing direct military help to the separatists. But Kabunin signed up with Dmitry Utkin, the leader of a group of Russian ex-servicemen fighting there who uses the nom de guerre “Vagner”, and, drawing on his medical degree, served as a military medic, his relative said.



When Utkin and his comrades deployed to Syria in support of Russia’s regular forces, Kabunin went with them, people familiar with the deployment said. As of April 2016, he was a field medic in a medical evacuation unit under Utkin’s command in Syria, according to an official in a Ukrainian law enforcement agency.

The agency says it has obtained the personnel records of 1,700 Russian contractors deployed in Syria, most of whom were earlier in Ukraine.

Kabunin left home for his last trip to Syria on Jan. 4 and was put in command of a medical company, but was wounded on Jan. 31 and died on Feb. 7 in Homs province, a relative said.



The relative knew this from former police colleagues of Kabunin, some of whom also served in Syria, and from his death certificate, which was handed to his wife Natalya. It was not clear how she was informed and who gave her the death certificate. She declined to speak to Reuters.


Relatives of other killed contractors say the news has come via friends or acquaintances, or by phone from people who say they represent a private company

Kabunin was buried next to other family members’ graves in Orenburg, his portrait displayed on a cross showing a man with a shaved head in civilian clothes.

His wife received a compensation payment, according to the relative, who gave no further details.

According to accounts from relatives of other contractors killed in Syria, the employer typically pays out 3 million roubles ($51,227) in compensation to the next of kin when a contractor is killed.

Relatives of another dead contractor told Reuters that, in his case, the money was handed over to his widow in cash in a hotel in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.



On a visit to Syria on Dec. 11, President Vladimir Putin declared mission accomplished for the Syrian operation and paid tribute to Russian servicemen who have been killed there.



There was no mention of the contractors’ losses. The government is under no obligation to disclose the deaths of non-regular forces fighting under its command and Russian military losses in Syria are a state secret.

Kabunin’s death did not dissuade his friend Valery Dzyuba, also a former police officer and kickboxer from Orenburg, from heading to Syria to fight as a military contractor.

Dzyuba’s family received a phone call from an unidentified man saying he had died on Aug. 20 but not specifying the circumstances. Dzyuba was killed in Syria, according to one of his classmates, Kabunin’s relative and an official in the village where Dzyuba was buried.


(Editing by Timothy Heritage)