The Justice Department on Wednesday announced war crimes charges against four Russian soldiers, accusing them of beating and torturing an American in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
“As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said while announcing the charges Wednesday. “That is why the Justice Department has filed the first ever charges under the U.S. war crimes statute against four Russia-affiliated military personnel for heinous crimes against an American citizen.”
Charges including torture, inhuman treatment and unlawful confinement were filed against 45-year-old Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, Dmitry Budnik and two people whose last names were unknown: Valerii and Nazar. Mkrtchyan and Budnik were commanding officers of units fighting for Russia in Ukraine, while Valerii and Nazar were lower-ranking military personnel, officials said.
“That American, like so many others, became a victim of Russia’s unprovoked invasion on Ukraine, which continues to wreak unimageable tragedy on the region,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday. “Caught in the crossfire of a war he had no part in, this American was tormented for days at the hands of these defendants.”
In April 2022, Mkrtchyan and soldiers under his command abducted the victim from his home in southern Ukraine after Russian forces invaded Mylove, according to the DOJ. Mkrtchyan, Valerii, Nazar and others threw the American face down on the ground while he was naked, tied his hands behind his back, pointed a gun at his head and beat him severely, prosecutors said. He was held in a closet that served as a jail cell for 10 days, during which authorities said he was interrogated twice, beaten and tortured.
“During the interrogation, when the victim’s answers did not satisfy the defendants, we allege that Budnik, who was also a commanding officer, threatened the victim with death and asked for his last words,” Garland said Wednesday.
Nazar and others then took the victim outside and “conducted a mock execution,” according to the DOJ.
“They forced him to the ground (and) put a gun to the back of his head. The victim believed he was about to be killed,” the attorney general said. “They moved the gun just before pulling the trigger and the bullet went just past his head.”
The man was also stripped naked and photographed during one interrogation, threatened with sexual assault, forced to perform manual labor and beaten with the stocks of at least three of the soldiers’ guns, according to authorities.
“Again and again, he believed he was going to die,” Garland said.
Days after the abduction, Mkrtchyan, Valerii, Nazar and others transferred the victim to an improvised military compound in Mylove, officials said.
Authorities began investigating the incident in August 2022, when the victim told federal investigators about his abduction as he was being evacuated from Ukraine.
“The evidence gathered by our agents speaks to the brutality, criminality and depravity of Russia’s invasion,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said Wednesday. “The Ukrainian people have had and must continue to have America’s full support against Russia’s unjust, unprovoked and unlawful war of aggression. We cannot allow such horrific crimes to be ignored. To do so would only increase the risk that they will be repeated.”
Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with President Vladimir Putin recognizing a pair of separatist regions in Ukraine and launching attacks on the country.
As of Oct. 8, officials with the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights said at least 9,806 civilians have been killed in the conflict, although they warned that they believe the actual number is higher.
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