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Feds charge four with war crimes in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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Four Russia-affiliated military members were charged with war crimes that were unsealed Wednesday in Virginia, the first such charges since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The charges include torture, inhuman treatment and unlawful confinement of a U.S. national in Ukraine after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The four are Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, 45, Dmitry Budnik, Valerii LNU (last name unknown), and Nazar LNU were each charged in connection with their unlawful detainment of a U.S. national in the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The four allegedly interrogated, beat and tortured the victim. They also allegedly threatened to kill the victim and conducted a mock execution, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “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.”

According to U.S. allegations, Mkrtchyan and Budnik were commanding officers of military units of the Russian Armed Forces and/or the Donetsk People’s Republic, and Valerii and Nazar were lower-ranking military members. The defendants are alleged to have been fighting on behalf of Russia when they allegedly committed war crimes.

In April 2022, Mkrtchyan and soldiers under his command allegedly abducted the victim, a U.S. national, from his home in the village of Mylove in the Kherson Oblast region in southern Ukraine. They held him for at least 10 days. During the abduction, Mkrtchyan, Valerii, Nazar, and others allegedly threw the victim face down to the ground while he was naked, tied his hands behind his back, pointed a gun at his head, and severely beat him, including with the stocks of their guns. Mkrtchyan, Valerii, Nazar, and others then allegedly transported the victim to a military compound in Mylove.

“During his 10 days detained by Russia-affiliated forces, the victim in this case was tortured, threatened with sexual assault and execution, forced to perform manual labor, and beaten in the head, chest, and stomach with the soldiers’ feet, their fists, and their guns,” Garland said Wednesday. “Again and again, he believed he was going to die.”

The indictment also alleges that Mkrtchyan and Budnik participated in at least two interrogation sessions during which the four defendants and others tortured the victim.

During one interrogation, Mkrtchyan, Valerii, and Nazar allegedly stripped off the victim’s clothes and photographed him. The defendants and others then allegedly severely beat the victim, pointed guns at the back of his head, and threatened to shoot him. Budnik allegedly threatened the victim with death and asked for his last words. Shortly thereafter, Nazar and others allegedly conducted a mock execution. They allegedly forced the victim to the ground, put a gun to the back of his head, then moved the gun slightly and shot a bullet just past the victim’s head.

The defendants are charged with three war crimes – unlawful confinement, torture, and inhuman treatment – and one count of conspiracy to commit war crimes. If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Garland said Wednesday that the victim was living in Mylove, a village in Southern Ukraine, and was not participating in the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

“The Justice Department – and the American people – have a long memory,” Garland said. “We will not forget the atrocities in Ukraine.”

Garland also said the four were “presumed innocent until proven guilty” like other defendants in the U.S. criminal justice system.

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