war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Finland detains Russian neo-Nazi ‘Rusich’ leader wanted for war crimes in Ukraine

Halya Coynash
Yan Petrovskyl, together with fellow neo-Nazi sadist from St Petersburg Alexei Milchakov, face charges of war crimes back in 2014 and 2015 as the leaders of the notorious 'Rusich' unit, which is now affiliated with the Wagner group
From left Alexei Milchakov and Yan Petrovsky in Donbas, 2014
From left Alexei Milchakov and Yan Petrovsky in Donbas, 2014

Yan Petrovsky, a notorious Russian neo-Nazi wanted by Ukraine for crimes he openly boasted of in occupied Luhansk oblast, has been detained in Finland, pending review of an extradition request from Ukraine.  Petrovsky, who is referred to by his comrades as ‘Slav’, but who has probably been in hiding under the name ‘Voislav Torden’, is often referred to as the right-hand man of neo-Nazi sadist Aleksei Milchakov.  The two men, both from St Petersburg, are co-founders of the so-called Rusich ‘sabotage-assault reconnaissance group’, an openly far-right and neo-Nazi unit which now, reportedly, operates as part of the Wagner group.  Milchakov has never hidden either his Nazi ideology, nor the fact that he, and his men, were paid for their killing services in Ukraine.  The reports of Petrovsky’s detention say that he is suspected of involvement in the activities of a terrorist group and providing other forms of support for a terrorist group in Donbas (the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) in 2014-2015.   

On 5 September 2014, Rusich fighters ambushed and killed a column of Ukrainian Aidar Volunteer Battalion fighters near Metallist.  They are believed to have beaten and tortured those who had survived the original shootout, with none left alive.  Milchakov and Petrovsky then photographed themselves against the men’s mutilated bodies.  Milchakov was seen cutting off the ear of one of their victims. The videos have all been removed from YouTube due to their monstrous content, however copies will almost certainly have been cached and documented. There are also plenty of interviews in which the men admitted to the actions, if not going into detail.

The above is unlikely to be the only atrocity which Petrovsky is accused, according to the court documents, of having committed in Ukraine.

36-year-old Petrovsky was, it transpires, detained by Finnish border guards on 20 July, but the news was only reported in Ukrainian and Russian media when the Finnish public prosecutor requested extension of his detention on 25 August. This was granted by the County Court in Eastern Uusimaa, during a hearing behind closed doors and Petrovsky will remain in detention in Vantaa. 

As mentioned, the name stubbornly attributed to Petrovsky by Russian state media, Voislav Torden, was almost certainly assumed because of both Ukraine’s extradition request and the US sanctions that he has been under since 2022.  According to Russia’s RIA Novosti, Finnish media have reported that ‘Voislav’ is supposed to mean “fighting on the side of Slavs”. If so, then this is on the intellectual level of Petrovsky’s general ideology since he and the current Russian regime are waging a genocidal war against Ukraine, the vast majority of whose citizens are Slavs. While clearly presenting himself as a ‘Russian patriot’, Petrovsky appears to prefer living outside Russia.  He was in Norway for a very long and, according to the St Petersburg newspaper Fontanka made a living in Oslo as a tattooer.  He was also an active participant in the Norwegian far-right movement, and was detained in 2016 by the Norwegian authorities “for reasons of national security”.  It was not clear then whether Ukraine had formally requested his extradition, and at that stage he was simply deported back to Russia. Judging by a Fontanka report from June 2022, he was in Russia at the funeral of a Russian killed fighting in Ukraine. 

If, as is to be hoped, Petrovsky is extradited to Ukraine, more information will come to light about the role of Rusich and of his and Milchakov’s involvement in the war since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.  Rusich is believed to have been deployed in Kharkiv oblast, and the unit was the first on 12 April 2023 to post a horrific video, apparently showing the beheading of a Ukrainian prisoner of war.  The caption said that “you’ll be surprised at how many such videos will gradually come to light”.  It is not clear whether Rusich fighters or some other Wagner mercenaries were behind that specific atrocity, but worth noting that the Russian defence ministry and Kremlin undoubtedly knew whom they were sending to kill Ukrainians.  Milchakov first gained notoriety in his native St Petersburg for beheading a puppy on video and calling on fellow neo-Nazis to kill down-and-outs. Back in 2022, Yevgeny Prigozhin undoubtedly had Kremlin and penitentiary service support when he travelled around prison colonies, recruiting multiple killers, rapists and other violent criminals to fight in Ukraine.

Since Petrovsky is in Finland and did have access to a telephone after his detention, it is interesting that the indignation from his ideological comrades and the comments from Russian state media only appeared after the reports on 25 August.  RIA Novosti cited the Russian embassy in Helsinki as claiming that Petrovsky (“Torden”) had made no appeal to them.  Rusich, on the other hand, have now threatened to undertake any ‘military tasks’ until Petrovsky is handed over to the Russian Federation. They claim to be “defending” Russia and ask why they should “if the country doesn’t defend its own citizens”, There was similar criticism of the Russian authorities on ‘grey zone’, a Telegram channel linked with the Wagner mercenaries.

In March 2015 both Petrovsky and Milchakov were part of a militant ‘delegation’ to a forum in St. Petersburg of members of mainly European and Russian far-right and neo-Nazi parties.  In September that year and the following year, they were brought in as ‘instructors’ at a camp under the patronage of the former ‘prime minister of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, another Russian with far-right views and now Russian MP, Alexander Borodai.  The training camp was for fighters from ‘Rusich’ and an organization called the E.N.O.T Corporation, and was one of the ever-mounting number of such events where even very young teenagers are taught how to shoot and kill, all for ‘the glory of Russia’.

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