Oslo, Norway CNN  — 

A former Wagner mercenary says the brutality he witnessed in Ukraine ultimately pushed him to defect, in an exclusive CNN interview on Monday.

Wagner fighters were often sent into battle with little direction, and the company’s treatment of reluctant recruits was ruthless, Andrei Medvedev told CNN’s Anderson Cooper from Norway’s capital Oslo, where he is seeking asylum after crossing that country’s arctic border from Russia.

“They would round up those who did not want to fight and shoot them in front of newcomers,” he alleges. “They brought two prisoners who refused to go fight and they shot them in front of everyone and buried them right in the trenches that were dug by the trainees.”

The 26-year-old, who says he previously served in the Russian military, joined Wagner as a volunteer. He crossed into Ukraine less than 10 days after signing his contract in July 2022, serving near Bakhmut, the frontline city in the Donetsk region. The mercenary group has emerged as a key player in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Medvedev said he reported directly to the group’s founders, Dmitry Utkin and Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, whom he describes as “the devil.”

“If (Prigozhin) was a Russian hero, he would have taken a gun and run with the soldiers,” Medvedev said.

Andrei Medvedev, a former Wagner commander, is photographed in Norway.

In a statement emailed to CNN on Tuesday, Prigozhin declined to comment on “military issues” and described Wagner as an “exemplary military organization that complies with all the necessary laws and rules of modern wars.” The Wagner boss has previously confirmed that Medvedev had served in his company, and said that he “should have been prosecuted for attempting to mistreat prisoners.”