The United States is charging four Russian-affiliated soldiers with war crimes for what American prosecutors describe as the heinous abuse of a U.S. citizen following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of last year.
The charges – the first ever filed by the U.S. under its nearly 30-year-old war crimes statute – include conspiracy to commit war crimes, unlawful confinement, torture, and inhumane treatment, following the takeover of the village of Mylove, in the Kherson oblast of southern Ukraine in April 2022.
“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 Wednesday.
“The Justice Department and the American people have a long memory,” he added. “We will not forget the atrocities in Ukraine, and we will never stop working to bring those responsible to justice.”
According to the nine-page indictment, the perpetrators include Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan and Dmitry Budnik, described as commanding officers with either the Russian Armed Forces or the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.
Two other soldiers named in the indictment – Valerii and Nazar – are identified only by their first names.
Garland and other U.S. officials said Wednesday the victim was a non-combatant living with his Ukrainian wife in Mylove when the four Russians kidnapped him from his home.
They allegedly then stripped him naked, tied his hands behind his back, put a gun to his head, and beat him, before taking him to an improvised Russian military compound.
The indictment states the victim was then taken to an improvised jail where he was subject to multiple interrogations and “acts specifically intended to inflict severe and serious physical and mental pain and suffering.”
Additionally, the indictment alleges at least one of the Russian soldiers sexually assaulted the victim, and that the Russians carried out a mock execution.
“They moved the gun just before pulling the trigger, and the bullet went just past his head,” Garland said. “After the mock execution, the victim was beaten and interrogated again.”
The victim was also forced to perform manual labor, such as digging trenches for Russian forces, until he was finally released after a little over a week in detention.
U.S. officials said the charges against the four Russian-affiliated soldiers stem from an investigation that started in August 2022, when investigators with the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Homeland security traveled to meet with the victim after he had been evacuated from Ukraine.
They said evidence was also collected in collaboration with Ukrainian officials.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Wednesday investigators also met with members of the victim’s family and with multiple witnesses who were able to confirm Russian forces occupied the village of Mylove and the surrounding areas during the time the alleged war crimes took place.
“We cannot allow such horrific crimes to be ignored. To do so would only increase the risk they will be repeated,” Mayorkas said.
“As today’s announcement makes clear, when an American citizen’s human rights are violated, their government will spare no effort and spare no resources to bring the perpetrators to justice,” he added.
VOA contacted the Russian Embassy in Washington for comment about the charges. Embassy officials have yet to respond.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, indicated that while the war crimes charges announced on Wednesday are the first, they likely will not be the last.
“You should expect more,” Garland told reporters. “I can’t get into too many details.”