Supporters of Wagner Group leader Yevegny Prigozhin, who is believed to have been killed in a dramatic plane crash, have started laying flowers outside the former headquarters of the mercenary outfit in St. Petersburg.
Russian officials said Prigozhin and several of his close aides were on board the Embraer executive jet that crashed in northwestern Russia on Wednesday. However, the Wagner boss' death has not yet been confirmed.
Makeshift memorials appeared outside the private military group's former headquarters around midnight Thursday, with footage showing mourners bringing flowers, candles and patches featuring Wagner’s skull logo.
Similar memorials were spotted in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, according to the news website Sota. At least one supporter staged a one-man picket in the city of Yaroslavl, the news website 7x7 reported.
"Guys, we just have no words right now," said one masked man, who claimed to be a member of Wagner, according to AFP journalists.
"Let's support Yevgeny Viktorovich [Prigozhin] and all our commanders. We need your support now."
While law enforcement in St. Petersburg did not interfere with the gathering, they did check the personal documents of mourners and journalists, according to Sota.
“I won’t be afraid to say that Yevgeny Prigozhin is a Russian hero,” a supporter who introduced himself as Arsen told the local Fontanka news website.
“He’s a man of his word. He’s done a lot not only in the course of the special military operation, [but] in defending Russia’s interests in the world, the Syrian campaign [and] in Africa,” he said.
Wagner opened its St. Petersburg headquarters in November. It was seen as part of the paramilitary group’s and Prigozhin’s growing public profile in the months after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
PMC Wagner Center’s social media page in July said it was moving out of the headquarters, just a week after Prigozhin staged a failed coup against Russia's military leadership and was forced to leave for neighboring Belarus in exchange for dropped mutiny charges.
Observers and world leaders speculated that Prigozhin’s presumed death was President Vladimir Putin’s signal to other members of the ruling elite that he would not tolerate disloyalty.
An RBC news website correspondent noted that flowers continued pouring into the ex-Wagner center on Thursday morning, after its employees had removed flowers laid overnight.