Fact Check

Did the Head of the Wagner Group Write a Children's Book?

Yevgeny Prigozhin and his mercenary force launched a brief rebellion in Russia in June 2023.

Published June 28, 2023

 (Screenshot via Twitter/djuric_zlatko)
Image Via Screenshot via Twitter/djuric_zlatko
Claim:
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group, wrote and illustrated a children’s book titled “Indraguzik” in the early 2000s.
Context

The Moscow Times obtained a copy of the book, which was reportedly not for sale. It was a collaboration between Prigozhin and his children, was published in 2004 (according to one report), and was titled “Indraguzik.” In a 2011 interview with Russian media, Prigozhin himself mentioned that he had written a children’s book. While the illustrations in the book are attributed to Prigozhin, there is no publicly available evidence of his artistic skills. We were unable to obtain a copy of the book ourselves.

On June 24, 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a powerful Russian paramilitary leader and once an ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, turned his weapons on the Russian army in what many described as a coup attempt. 

His forces, referred to as the Wagner Group, took key military installations and threatened to march on Moscow when Prigozhin called off his troops and announced he had agreed to a deal—mediated by Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko—in which he would move to Belarus and all charges against him and his troops would be dropped.

As news reports attempted to understand the former Putin ally and powerful Russian leader of the Wagner group, a surprising detail about Prigozhin's backstory went viral across the internet. 

One Twitter user claimed: 

Few people know about publishing activities of Eugeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner PMC. In 2002, he published the children's book "Indraguzik", created together with his children Polina and Pasha. [...] Prigozhin, "despite the final lines of the book, is still going to write a sequel - about the new adventures of the Indraguziks. 

"The first book is the world of my childhood, in the second I am going to describe the adventures of Indraguzik in the modern world."

By the way, chapter 19 has a name "The Happy Salvation of the King."

We found an account of this book in a June 2023 story in The Moscow Times, an independent news source whose Russian-language website was blocked by Russian authorities in 2022 over its coverage of Ukraine. The newspaper obtained a copy of the children's book and noted that only 2,000 copies of it had been printed and it was believed to have never been for sale. Prigozhin reportedly gifted copies to friends and associates. 

The title, "Indraguzik," is a made up name according to the report, and the book told the story of "a little boy and his sister who live with their family inside a huge theater chandelier." Set in a land of "small people" who live among humans the story follows Indraguzik as he falls out of the theater chandelier and has to find his way home. 

The book was officially authored by Prigozhin's two children Polina and Pavel, but according to the preface, it was a collaboration between Prigozhin and his children. 

According to The Moscow Times, it was published in 2004 by a little known publisher called Agat. Images shared by the report show that inside the front cover is a photograph of a smiling Prigozhin with his wife and children. 

However, the book could have been published earlier. A September 2003 story in Russian business newspaper Delovoy Peterburg describes how noted restaurateur Prigozhin "surprised" people with the book release, and gave away the available copies. Using Google translate, we read in the report that Prigozhin had plans for a second book about "the adventures of Indraguzik in the modern world."

The 90-page book carries intricate and colorful illustrations that are attributed to the paramilitary leader, though there is no other public evidence of his artistic prowess. It could be a family trait, however—according to an April 2023 Financial Times report Prigozhin's mother was an artist who had a gallery in St. Petersburg.  

Most news stories from Insider to The Telegraph, cite The Moscow Times report as their primary source for this story. However, the BBC pointed out that Prigozhin himself talked about the book in a rare 2011 interview with a Russian magazine.

We found the interview on Gorod 812. In response to a question about his interests outside of his business, Prigozhin said, "Together with my children, I wrote a fairy tale for kids about [...] little people in a big city. Indraguzik in this book helped the king and saved the kingdom, and in the future he must do something very heroic."

According to The Moscow Times, later in the book, Indraguzik and his friends journey to their native land of Indroguzia, where they meet its king. Their family chandelier is discovered to be magic and has the power to enlarge them to the size of regular humans. When they try to use the chandelier to make the king bigger, it accidentally turns him into a giant. 

"How can I rule my people if they are so small? I could destroy them by mistake. Please make me the same king I was. Only a small king can rule the Indraguziks," the king pleads with them in the book.  

Konstantin Kalachev, a Russian political expert, also spoke about the book to The Moscow Times, calling it a "nice" story and describing Prigozhin as a "diverse" person who shifted and evolved with the times, switching roles from convict to children's author, to Putin's friend to leader of the mercenaries. 

Prigozhin has over time been involved in a range of ventures and major international incidents. He has been referred to as "Putin's chef," as his catering company, Concord, was contracted to supply food to the Kremlin. His Wagner fighters have been key players in Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. He became increasingly critical of Russia's military leaders for what he perceived as a failure to achieve the aims of their military operation in Ukraine, but had stopped short of criticizing Putin. He also admitted to "interfering" in U.S. elections and is accused of being behind "troll farms" that were formed by the St Petersburg Internet Research Agency (IRA). The U.S. put sanctions on Prigozhin personally for interference in the 2016 and later attempted interference in the 2018 midterm elections. 

We found other mentions of "Indraguzik" on Russian sites and across Russian media. Proekt, an independent Russian media outlet specializing in investigative journalism—which was labeled as an "undesirable" outfit by Russia in 2021—published a 2019 investigation on Concord. They investigated how companies associated with Prigozhin got away with reportedly poor food quality, and their pattern of receiving government orders and winning court cases despite the complaints. In the beginning of the story, Proekt quoted the protagonist of the children's book (we used Google translate for the following):

"I really like mushrooms with potatoes, because in the theater where I used to live, they were very rare, even, to be honest, there were no mushrooms with potatoes for lunch at all. Sometimes the mice would slowly pull sausages out of the buffet to the attic for us, and we would make a very tasty soup out of it."

- recalls the protagonist of the fairy tale "Indraguzik" . Its author is businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. He wrote and published a book as a gift to his children.

However, in life, dinners do not always "pretty bellies growl", as the heroes of the book said about it. In December 2018, Prigozhin's Concorde company was at the center of a scandal due to the massive dysentery among Moscow preschoolers. According to the press secretary of the President Dmitry Peskov, the situation "was promptly resolved [...]

eLibrary.Ru, a Russian scientific electronic library has an entry on the book. The library is part of the Russian Science Citation Index, a national bibliographic database of scientific citations with more than 12 million publications of Russian authors, carrying information on citing these publications from more than 6,000 Russian journals. The book was registered in 2004 and has a 2006 publication date according to the database. The patent holder was listed as "Prigogine Evgeny Viktorovich" and has the patent number RU 59345.  

While the book itself is not publicly available, independent reporting from sources like The Moscow Times, contemporaneous reporting in 2003 from Delovoy Peterburg, and interviews with Prigozhin himself, confirm that such a children's book exists and he was involved in creating it.  

Sources

eLibrary.Ru. https://www.elibrary.ru/ip_restricted.asp?rpage=https%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eelibrary%2Eru%2Fitem%2Easp%3Fid%3D40812097. Accessed 28 June 2023.

Gelling, Peter. "Head of Russia's Notorious Wagner Group Wrote a Children's Book That Takes Place in a Land of Tiny People." Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/russia-wagner-group-yevgeny-prigozhin-childrens-book-ukraine-war-2023-6. Accessed 28 June 2023.

Gorod 812. 8 Mar. 2011, https://web.archive.org/web/20110308061408/http://www.online812.ru:80/2011/02/28/014/. Accessed 28 June 2023.

Johnson, Miles. "Horses, Art and Private Jets: The Charmed Life of Russian Warlord's Family." Financial Times, 26 Apr. 2023. https://www.ft.com/content/03137d7f-6ea0-45eb-9284-d8957a650ba4. Accessed 28 June 2023.

Kilner, James. "War Criminal Wagner Chief Has Written Children's Book." The Telegraph, 1 June 2023. www.telegraph.co.uk, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2023/06/01/war-criminal-wagner-chief-yevgeny-prigozhin-childrens-book/. Accessed 28 June 2023.

Nagourney, Eric, and Mike Ives. "What's Happening in Russia? Here's What We Know." The New York Times, 24 June 2023. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/24/world/europe/russia-prigozhin-wagner-chief-rostov.html. Accessed 28 June 2023.

"Russia's Prigozhin Admits Interfering in U.S. Elections." Reuters, 7 Nov. 2022. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/russias-prigozhin-admits-interfering-us-elections-2022-11-07/. Accessed 28 June 2023.

"Russia Blocks Moscow Times' Russian-Language Website Over Ukraine War Coverage." VOA, 15 Apr. 2022, https://www.voanews.com/a/russia-blocks-moscow-times-russian-language-website-over-ukraine-war-coverage-/6531368.html. Accessed 28 June 2023.

"Russia Bans Independent Investigative Outlet Proekt with 'Undesirable' Label." The Moscow Times, 15 July 2021, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2021/07/15/russia-bans-independent-investigative-outlet-proekt-with-undesirable-label-a74533. Accessed 28 June 2023.

"Wagner Head Prigozhin's Past Life as a Children's Author and Illustrator." The Moscow Times, 1 June 2023, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2023/06/01/wagner-head-prigozhins-past-life-as-a-childrens-author-and-illustrator-a81358. Accessed 28 June 2023.

"Yevgeny Prigozhin: From Putin's Chef to Rebel in Chief." BBC News, 20 Mar. 2023. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64976080. Accessed 28 June 2023.

"Шеф и Повар.  Часть Вторая. Рассказ о Том, Кого и Как Кормит Кремлевский Ресторатор." Proekt, 28 Mar. 2019, https://www.proekt.media/narrative/shkolnoe-pitanie-prigozhin/. Accessed 28 June 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.