Finland’s Deputy Prosecutor General has decided to open a preliminary criminal investigation into suspected war crimes allegedly committed by Yan Petrovsky, also known as Voislav Tordenin, the former commander of the Rusich paramilitary group that operated in Eastern Ukraine, Yle reports.
According to the Prosecutor General’s office, the alleged crimes under investigation occurred prior to Russia’s 2022 full-blown war, during the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. The investigation will focus specifically on acts perpetrated against wounded or surrendered Ukrainian soldiers by Rusich forces under Petrovsky’s leadership.
The crimes will be investigated in Finland rather than Ukraine because the Finland declined extradition requests from the Ukrainian government.
Under Finnish law, crimes committed abroad can still be prosecuted domestically if they are considered “international crimes.” The investigation will be conducted by Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation.
According to the investigation by the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, Yan Petrovsky fought against Ukraine as part of the so-called Rusich sabotage and assault reconnaissance group and committed war crimes on the territory of Ukraine during 2014-2015, including allegations of torturing and killing Ukrainian prisoners of war.
After the fighting died down in 2015, many members of Rusich reportedly went on to fight alongside the Russian Wagner Group mercenary force in Syria. Following Russia’s 2022 invasion, Rusich forces have also been active on the frontlines in Ukraine.
Petrovsky himself was apprehended by Finnish border officials in August 2022 after entering the country illegally under an assumed name. He had been placed on a Schengen area entry ban list, but Finnish intelligence revealed he had previously used other identities to travel.
Ukraine has strongly demanded his extradition to face charges there, but Finland’s Supreme denied Ukraine’s request to extradite Yan Petrovsky, stating that Petrovsky’s treatment in Ukraine may not meet the requirements of humane treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Petrovsky’s Neo-Nazi ties and militant activities
Yan Petrovsky has a long history with neo-Nazi causes and irregular militant groups. He was one of the founding members of the Rusich paramilitary unit, a far-right Russian group accused of war crimes during Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Petrovsky previously lived in Norway as a youth but decided to return to Russia and join Rusich. He fought alongside the group in Ukraine beginning in 2014 when conflict first broke out in the Donbas region. Rusich gained notoriety for its brutality against Ukrainian forces.
After a ceasefire in 2015, Petrovsky and many Rusich members went on to fight in Syria supporting dictator Bashar al-Assad. They operated alongside the Wagner Group private military contractors to prop up the Syrian regime.
Petrovsky later assumed command of Rusich in 2022 when its previous leader, neo-Nazi mercenary Alexi Milchakov, was wounded while fighting in Kharkiv. Milchakov had publicly admitted to torturing and killing Ukrainian POWs.
According to US officials, Petrovsky took charge of the militant group and bore responsibility for its actions during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both Petrovsky and Rusich have been sanctioned by the US and EU for threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty through their conduct in the war.
Norway eventually deported Petrovsky back to Russia in 2016, declaring him a security threat due to his extremist views and activities. But he returned to Ukraine in 2022 as part of Rusich, before being captured in Finland.