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First indictments made under U.S. war crimes statute in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Crystal Graham
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War crimes charges against four Russia-affiliated military personnel were unsealed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia federal courthouse in Richmond. The charges include unlawful confinement, inhuman treatment and torture of a U.S. national in Ukraine following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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 context of the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The defendants are alleged to have interrogated, severely beat and tortured the victim. They also allegedly threatened to kill the victim and conducted a mock execution.

“These charges reflect that the defendants’ alleged actions are not only grave breaches of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War but also violations of U.S. law,” said Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “We are proud to be at the forefront of the Department of Justice’s effort to hold perpetrators of war crimes violations accountable in Ukraine and will continue to pursue them.”

The Justice Department filed the charges under the U.S. war crimes statute.

“As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “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. The Justice Department will work for as long as it takes to pursue accountability and justice for Russia’s war of aggression.”

According to allegations in the indictment, Mkrtchyan and Budnik were commanding officers of military units of the Russian Armed Forces and/or the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. Valerii and Nazar were lower-ranking military personnel. The defendants are alleged to have been fighting on behalf of Russia in Ukraine 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 and unlawfully confined 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 an improvised military compound in Mylove.

“Since the start of their unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Russia has weaponized human rights abuses to wreak unimaginable tragedy,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Today’s indictments – the first ever under the U.S. war crimes statute – makes clear that the FBI will work with the full cooperation of international law enforcement to bring justice to the victims of these atrocities. The human toll of the conflict in Ukraine weighs heavily on the hearts of the FBI and we’re resolved to hold war criminals accountable no matter where they are or how long it takes.”

The indictment also alleges that Mkrtchyan and Budnik led and 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.

“Acting on behalf of the Russian Armed Forces and the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, these four individuals allegedly violated the human rights of an American citizen and his family,” said Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations.  “According to the charges, they unlawfully detained and tortured the American citizen, and even went so far as to carry out a mock execution. The unsealing of these charges for war crimes is an important step in bringing the responsible parties to justice. HSI will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who violates the human rights of our American citizens – at home or overseas.”

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

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.