In Saint Petersburg, mourners pay respect to Wagner's Prigozhin
Aljosa Milenkovic in St. Petersburg
Orthodox Christian icons and stylized crosses made of candles could be seen among the thousands of flowers laid in front of the mercenary group Wagner's headquarters in Saint Petersburg.
It was late on Thursday evening, and people were still coming to lay flowers or light the candles. A similar sense of loss was felt in many towns in Russia, where locals came out to show what they think of Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner private military company.
During his lifetime, some saw him as a criminal, while others had nothing but praise for him and his mercenaries. Hence it is no surprise that in the eyes of the people coming here he was a national hero, and a true Russian patriot.
"For me it is a huge, and personal tragedy," Maria Chusova from the Altay region of Russia told CGTN. "There are only a few people like him here now. It's a pity this has happened."
Aleksandr Maksimov, from the Rostov region, also expressed sadness that the mercenary group's top brass perished in the plane crash.
"They were the number one target on the entire planet and a priority for some heads of the counties. They should have traveled separately, to prevent this great loss," he said.
'A man with a complex destiny'
Russian President Vladimir Putin also commented on Yevgeniy Prigozhin's death, also mentioning what he described as his very colorful life.
"I knew Prigozhin for a very long time, since the early 1990s," Vladimir Putin said.
"He was a man with a complex destiny, and he made serious mistakes in life. He achieved the results he needed both for himself and, when I asked him, for the common cause, as in these last months," said Putin.
The Russian leader also said that the investigation and the identification of the bodies would take time, but he promised conclusive results. As speculation over the cause of the plane crash continues to circulate in Russia, people want to know the specifics of what happened.
However, there are other issues that would need to be addressed first, including the question about the future of the mercenary group. Will it continue its existence and operations? And if yes, under whose command and ownership?
The Wagner group may not be involved in an active mission in Ukraine but it is participating in four ongoing military operations across the globe – two in Africa, one in Syria and one in Belarus, where its troops are training the local military.