The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) formally unsealed war crime charges against four Russian soldiers on Wednesday. The soldiers charged with three war crimes each—unlawful confinement, torture and inhuman treatment—and one count of conspiracy to commit war crimes. The defendants face a maximum penalty of life in prison. None are currently in custody.
In April of 2022, less than two months after Russia invaded Ukraine, an American who lived in Mylove, Ukraine, was allegedly abducted by Russian soldiers. The American had not fought or participated in the conflict. He lived with his wife in a small Southern Ukrainian village. According to the indictment, the American was a “protected person” under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Two Russian commanders and two low-ranking soldiers reportedly went to the home of the American. The DOJ claims that the Russians handcuffed the victim naked, photographed him and beat him with the stocks of their guns. In a makeshift Russian compound, the soldiers allegedly tortured him, subjected him to manual labor, threatened to sexually assault him and continued their beatings.
“Torturing and unlawfully confining a protected person are serious human rights abuses that must not go unpunished,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the DOJ’s Criminal Division.
The counterterrorism section of the DOJ’s National Security Division is responsible for investigating and prosecuting matters involving torture, genocide and war crimes. The justice department has launched this team to centralize and strengthen its ongoing work to hold accountable those who have committed war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine. Additionally in Ukraine, several organizations and groups are working to document war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russian authorities. According the group Truth Hounds, 6,400 war crimes have been documented in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.
US Attorney General Garland emphasized the successful collaboration of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and their field offices in Kyiv, Warsaw and Moscow. FBI Director Christopher Wray commented, “Though today marks the first time the War Crimes Act of 1996 has been charged in U.S. history, this is certainly not the first time the FBI has investigated war crimes and held perpetrators accountable.”