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US charges Russian soldiers with war crimes against an American in Ukraine

By Holmes Lybrand, Hannah Rabinowitz and Evan Perez, CNN

(CNN) — Four Russian soldiers have been charged with war crimes against an American who was living in Ukraine during the Russian invasion, according to a historic indictment unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Virginia.

The case against the Russian soldiers marks the first time the US government has used a decades-old law aimed to prosecute those who commit war crimes against American citizens.

The four Russian soldiers – identified as Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, Dmitry Budnik, V Alerii Lnu and Nazar Lnu – have been charged with four counts, including unlawful confinement, conspiracy to commit war crimes, inhuman treatment and torture.

Attorney General Merrick Garland called the charges “an important step towards accountability for the illegal war in Ukraine.”

“As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice,” Garland said at a press conference Wednesday. “That is why the Justice Department has filed the first-ever charges under the US war crimes statute against four Russia-affiliated military personnel for heinous crimes against an American citizen.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray said that while this is the first time DOJ has charged individuals under this war crimes statute, it’s not the first time the bureau has investigated war crimes and brought perpetrators to justice.

“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,” Wray said during the press conference Wednesday.

According to the indictment, the Russian soldiers violently abducted the American from his home in the Ukrainian village of Mylove. The soldiers allegedly beat and tortured the American in a Russian military compound, where he was held for 10 days in April 2022.

After abducting him, the Russian soldiers allegedly stripped the American naked, tied his hands behind his back and beat him with their fists, feet and the stocks of their guns.

While he was being illegally held by the Russian soldiers, the American was allegedly tortured by the four defendants and other unnamed co-defendants during at least two interrogation sessions. They stripped him naked, severely beat him and photographed him, according to the indictment.

Two of the defendants accused of war crimes against an American in Ukraine were commanding officers of the Russian Armed Forces, while the other two were lower-ranking members in the Russian army, according to the indictment unsealed Wednesday.

The indictment says the American was not fighting in the war and was a protected person under the Geneva Convention of 1949. The American was not named in the indictment.

After the American was evacuated in the summer of 2022 from Ukraine, where he lived with his wife, he told investigators with the US Department of Homeland Security about the torment he endured, according to Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Mayorkas said federal agents “traveled internationally to interview the victim’s family.”

“They identified and interviewed individuals who were present within the general vicinity of Mylove around the time the victim was held in captivity, who confirmed the Russian forces’ occupation in the area,” Mayorkas said. “Based on the information they obtained, the HSI agents and their FBI partners were able to identify the four defendants whose indictments are announced today.”

During the captivity, Russian soldiers allegedly threatened to kill the American, at times pointing guns to his head and a knife to his throat. Russian soldiers also put the American through a “mock execution,” forcing him to the ground, putting a gun to the back of his head and then shooting a bullet just past his head, according to the indictment.

The indictment says the American was threatened with sexual assault as well, and after his answers failed to satisfy the Russian soldiers, some threated him “with death and asked for his last words.” In addition, the American was also put through forced labor, according to the indictment, digging trenches for the Russian military.

“Again and again he believed he was going to die,” Garland said of the American allegedly tortured by Russian soldiers.

“In the midst of war, Ukrainian prosecutors and investigators have risked their lives to bring justice to the Ukrainian people,” Garland said. “When the time comes, the United States and our partners will be ready to bring accountability to Russia.”

The attorney general noted Wednesday that his department is still investigating other potential war crimes committed by the Russian military.

“This is our first, and you should expect more,” he said of the newly unsealed case.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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