Russian President Vladimir Putin
Putin praised troops who he said were defending the fatherland during the celebration at the Luzhniki Stadium. Photo by: Reuters/SPUTNIK

To fill a patriotic stadium gathering led by President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday Russian extras were enlisted on social media and promised cash and free goods, said reports.

At the celebration at the Luzhniki Stadium, which was draped in enormous Russian flags, 70-year-old Putin honored the soldiers who, in his words, were defending the fatherland.

Friday marks the first anniversary of the fierce invasion of Ukraine by the defiant leader, which he has continued to refer to as a "special military operation" and has repeatedly attempted to blame the West for, New York Post reported.

An estimated 200,000 people who were screaming "Russia, Russia" joined the celebrations, however, it now seems that the throng of supporters was only a hoax.

Advertisements looking for extras to participate in the Defender of the Fatherland Day rally started popping up on well-known social media platforms last week, according to the Russian-language news Telegram channel Sirena.

The recruiters were looking for "background actors, ideally under the age 35-40," to show up at the stadium rally. They were being offered 500 rubles, which is about $7, as well as free merchandise for their trouble.

Reporting from the independent Russian news source Meduza verified this information.

The advertisement also stated that a number of A-list Russian pop stars were expected to perform as the event's headliners. When a Sirena reporter asked one of the organizers whether the celebrities named in the ad were actually going to perform at the rally, he was quoted as saying that he did not know.

"I'm just helping gather a crowd," he reportedly said.

State personnel and students were also bussed into the stadium to increase attendance at the event, according to a Sky News correspondent reporting from Moscow.

Representatives of Russia's military branches in dress uniforms attended the patriotic festival, which included rappers, pop, rock, and even a group of accordion players who entertained the crowd with patriotic songs.

Two hours into the concert, Putin, who was dressed for the cold in a thick winter jacket, ascended the stage and gave a three-and-a-half-minute statement in which he praised Moscow's military forces engaged in the conflict in Ukraine.

The rally was held on the eve of Russia's Feb. 23 holiday celebrating those who serve in the armed forces.

Despite all the talk of cooperation in Moscow, the commander of the private mercenary force fighting on Russia's side in Ukraine aggravated a tense dispute with senior army officers on Wednesday by releasing a graphic image of dozens of his fighters he said had been killed after being "starved" of ammunition.

A pile of dead men is shown in the horrific picture sent on Telegram, lying on snow-covered ground in eastern Ukraine.

"This is one of the places where the bodies of those who have died are gathered," Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, told a prominent Russian military blogger in an interview.

"These are guys who died yesterday because of so-called shell hunger. Mothers, wives, and children will get their bodies. There should be five times fewer (dead). Who is guilty that they died? The guilty ones are those who should have resolved the question of us getting enough ammo."

Prigozhin has repeatedly accused the Russian Defense Ministry of deliberately depriving his fighters of munitions in what he has called a treasonous attempt to destroy his company.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the defense ministry rejected these accusations as "completely untrue" and expressed disappointment about attempts to stir discord that served "solely to the benefit of the enemy."

Along with posting the graphic image of his fallen soldiers, a defiant Prigozhin also released a redacted copy of what he claimed to be Wagner's official ammunition request to the defense ministry, complete with a list of all the shells used, requested, and acquired.

According to Prigozhin, dubbed "Putin's chef, Wagner was reduced to pleading with military warehouses for ammunition which was occasionally successful. He also said that he had initiated a social media campaign to try and obtain the shells on Wednesday.

The catering mogul claimed his men will continue trying to take the vital city of Bakhmut in the Dontesk region, where there has been some of the deadliest fighting of the war in recent months, despite the alleged scarcity.

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