Ukrainian law students and young lawyers are reporting for JURIST on national and international developments in and affecting Ukraine. This dispatch is from Nastya Moyseyenko, a law student at Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv.
Last week, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that there was evidence sufficient to show Russia’s so-called “filtration” of Ukrainian civilians in the territories controlled by it. As mentioned by Madam Ambassador, “hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens – including children – have been interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported, some of them sent to very remote areas.”
In the course of a full-scale war in Ukraine, the mass media have acquainted the world with the “filtration camp” phenomenon in Ukraine’s occupied territories and the inhumane treatment behind it. A euphemism for a concentration camp, the filtration site is the first step in which the occupiers check and control the civilian population. Occupying soldiers can personally come to towns/villages in order to collect data about the residents, as one witness has mentioned, yet many are sent to be ‘filtrated’ when trying to escape war zones through humanitarian corridors.
When arriving at the filtration camps (usually located in the buildings of schools, state institutions, and so on), Ukrainians are stripped naked in order to be checked for patriotic tattoos or anything else symbolizing their pro-Ukrainian or anti-Russian views. The occupants scrutinize men more attentively, trying to detect signs on their fingers or shoulders that would ‘prove’ that the given person has held a gun recently. Telephones are being checked; the detained get beaten for using a “rushist” word – i.e. a newly coined insult for the aggressor (Russian + fascist) – on their social media, for praising President Zelensky, for having relatives in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, or for demonstrating any other kind of support to the ‘Nazi’ government in Kyiv.
Those who do not change their pro-Ukrainian views (or are disliked by Russians for any other reason) are sent to places of imprisonment. These are located in either the occupied territories or Russia’s remote areas. The fates of these people remain unknown; according to the witness’s hearsay, some of the most unfit for the ‘re-education’ following the filtration process are shot. As of September 1, the Ukrainian police had registered at least 32,000 missing persons.
Following the filtration, many of the “luckier” ones are then deported to the Russian Federation. A lot of families are separated for an unknown period of time. As said by the Deputy Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN, Khrystyna Hayovyshyn, out of 2.5 million transferred civilians, only 16,000 could return to their homeland. The rest are trapped inside Russia, a lot of them without even travel documents.
As Russia does not provide the international community with access to the filtration camps, it leaves little doubt about the much darker nature of such sites. It is not a new practice for the Russian authorities to create such facilities: two decades ago, the filtration camp system in Chechnya was notorious for systematic torture, rape, and extortion of imprisoned civilians. The thought that the same is happening right now to the innocent Ukrainians is terrifying – yet it is unreasonable to deny it, as the army of the very same state under the very same leadership as twenty years ago has adopted the very same policy towards the defenseless people.
Just like any other form of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the filtration camp system is a personal tragedy for millions of my countrymen and one of the most brutal violations of international law norms. What the innocent Ukrainians want and need the most is for the world to remember the crimes of Russia and pursue and crush its regime, its army, and its propaganda.