Russian President Vladimir Putin’s soldiers are forcibly taking people from Mariupol to Russia after interrogating them in so-called filter camps, according to testimonies shared by Ukrainian women.
“People need to know the truth, that Ukrainians are being moved to Russia, the country we are dealing with,” a woman who has been hiding in the Mariupol suburb with her family since early March told the Guardian.
The reports are consistent with claims by the Mariupol city council that the Russians kidnapped 20,000 Mariupol residents, according to an English translation of a March 29 message on the council’s Telegram channel.
Russian soldiers transported Ukrainians, including patients and staff from at least two maternity hospitals in Mariupol, through parts of eastern Ukraine under Russian control, NPR reported.
The woman told the Guardian she was part of a group of around 200 to 300 people who were taken to Novoazovsk, Ukraine, by bus.
It was then that they acknowledged that they had arrived at a “filtration camp”, a series of military tents run by the Russian military where those who arrived were to be interrogated and confiscated of their belongings before finally being transferred to Russia.
The woman said she had her photograph and fingerprints taken and was questioned about her potential ties to the Ukrainian military and her views on the war before being sent to the Russian city of Rostov. Others reported having to hand over their phones and passwords, which officers then used to access their phone contacts and save them to a database, according to the Washington Post.
The woman left the group after telling soldiers she had family in the area and has since made her way to the EU
“Such reports are lies,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Illegal deportations constitute war crimes, according to the United Nations.
President Joe Biden has said Putin is a “war criminal” and should be tried, promising further punishment following documented atrocities in Bucha.
Moscow said in March it had rescued 420,000 people “from dangerous regions of Ukraine, the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk” and evacuated them to Russia.
US intelligence services warned before the invasion that Russia might resort to its past practices of illegal detentions.
“These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/enforced disappearances, unjust detentions and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions,” wrote Ambassador Bathsheba Crocker. of the United States to the United Nations. a letter to the UN
The term “filtration camps” originated in the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Soviet citizens who lived outside the country and then sought to return – even those who had been forcibly taken to Germany as war criminals – were considered “suspicious”. According to British history professor Nick Baron, they had to be vetted in camps and detention centers before being readmitted to the Soviet Union or deported.
In February 2000, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing the excessive violence and rape committed by Russian forces inside a filtration camp in Chechnya, following a 1999 offensive against Chechen rebels during Putin’s first month in power. The aggression offset an earlier Russian setback that forced Russia to withdraw its forces from the region and sign a treaty that gave Chechnya, a Muslim-majority republic, broad autonomy in 1996, according to NPR.
Russia emerged triumphant this time, with Putin celebrating his victory in March 2000.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has worried those who have followed Chechnya.
“There are some pretty disturbing parallels,” Thomas de Waal, a journalist who covered the region in the 1990s, told NPR. “The use of heavy artillery, the indiscriminate attack on an urban center. They bring back some pretty terrible memories for those of us who covered the Chechnya war of the 1990s.”
The southern port city of Mariupol, where those taken to filtration camps are from, has borne the brunt of Russian cruelty and faces continuous shelling.
More than 4 million Ukrainians have had to flee their country since the start of the war.