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 refuses to extradite Russian neo-Nazi Rusich fighter to Ukraine to face war crimes trial

Halya Coynash
The arguments can certainly not be dismissed, however such rulings make it impossible for Ukraine to bring neo-Nazi mercenaries like Yan Petrovsky to justice for their direct role in Russia’s full-scale war of aggression

Yan Petrovsky (right) together with fellow neo-Nazi Rusich founder Alexei Milchakov

Yan Petrovsky (right) together with fellow neo-Nazi Rusich founder Alexei Milchakov

Finland’s Supreme Court has ruled that ‘Voislav Torden’, more notorious as Russian neo-Nazi mercenary Jan Petrovsky, cannot be extradited to Ukraine due to the conditions in Ukrainian penal institutions.  While the criticism of the latter may be warranted, the decision is extremely frustrating given the compelling grounds for trying Petrovsky over likely war crimes committed in Ukraine. 

Helsingin Sanomat reported the Finnish Supreme Court’s ruling on 8 December.  The Court cited European Court of Human Rights judgements which had found the conditions in Ukraine’s prisons to be in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the prohibition of torture).  A state may not extradite a person to another country if there are substantial grounds for believing that they would face torture, inhuman or degrading treatment in the latter.  The Court concluded that Petrovsky could face “degrading treatment” if extradited to Ukraine, seemingly, because of reported overcrowding and inadequate conditions in penal institutions.  An analogous ruling, in a different case, was passed by Sweden’s Supreme Court on 31 October 2023.  The irony of that earlier ruling is that the Court deemed it necessary to consider “the general situation in Ukraine, in particular the fact that the country has been subject to a full-scale war of aggression by Russia since February 2022.”

This may well be the case, however such rulings make it impossible for Ukraine to bring individuals like Yan Petrovsky, who has played a direct role in Russia’s full-scale war of aggression, to justice.

Petrovsky’s change of name, backed by new documents, was evidently aimed at evading international sanctions now in place because of Petrovsky’s actions in Ukraine.  He remains at present in custody, however the Finnish Border Guard Service is reportedly seeking his deportation from Finland, with this almost certainly back to Russia. The latter will, of course, not hand him over to Ukraine and the only chance of catching him will be if he again heads off to kill Ukrainians again. 

In comments following the Finnish Supreme Court’s ruling, Andriy Hulkevych from Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office said that the charges against Petrovsky remain and that they are seeking ways to get him detained and extradited.  He noted that the Prosecutor General’s Office had issued 125 requests for extradition in 2023.  Of those, twenty had been granted, a further fifteen turned down, with the others still awaiting a decision.  It seems clear from the greater number to date of positive outcomes for such applications that the two Scandinavian Courts’ interpretation is not necessarily shared by all countries’ highest courts.

Travelling under the name Voislav Torden, Petrovsky was detained at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport on 20 July 2023, while trying to board a flight to Nice.  He appears to have a wife who is studying in Finland, and had a residence permit under the name Torden.  A vigilant border guard realized that Torden was, in fact, Yan Petrovsky, who is under a ban covering the entire Schengen Zone, imposed by both the Czech Republic and Norway.  Petrovsky (or Petrovskiy, Yan Igorevich, b. 02.01.1987) has been under US sanctions as linked to the Rusich Task Force since 2022.

Although Petrovsky (Torden) positions himself as a ‘Russian patriot’ (and neo-Nazi), he seems to spend most of his time, when not fighting in Ukraine, abroad.   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” and deported back to Russia.  

Petrovsky is a co-founder, together with neo-Nazi sadist Alexei Milchakov, 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 earlier reports of Petrovsky’s detention stated 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 shocking 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.

Rusich is believed to have been deployed in Kharkiv oblast following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, 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.

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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