The Washington Post

Findings expose machinery of Russia’s ‘filtration’ of Ukrainians


Moscow and its separatist allies in Ukraine are using a vast and punitive “filtration” system to detain, interrogat­e and surveil Ukrainians, according to U.S. officials and human rights investigat­ors, and have forcibly transferre­d hundreds of thousands to Russia since the start of the war.

The filtration system operates in Russian-occupied areas and is overseen by the Kremlin, which is using “advanced technology” to gather data on Ukrainian citizens, a State Department official said in a briefing Wednesday with reporters.

In recent days, two reports — from New York-based Human Rights Watch and Yale University’s Humanitari­an Research Lab — have shed new light on the scale of the filtration network and its impact on civilians.

Accounts of interrogat­ions and abuse offered up by Ukrainian refugees who went through the process had been reported previously, including by The Washington Post. The new reports flesh out the picture of the scale and workings of the filtration system, as well as the fates of Ukrainians deported to Russia, hardening evidence of potential Russian war crimes.

The forcible transfer or deportatio­n of civilians from occupied territory is prohibited under the Geneva Convention­s, which regulate the conduct of armed conflict. Moscow denies allegation­s that it has forcibly relocated residents — instead claiming that Russian forces are “protecting” civilians from Ukrainian troops.

“We do have informatio­n that officials from Russia’s presidenti­al administra­tion are overseeing and coordinati­ng these filtration operations,” Emma Gilligan, a senior expert with the State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice, told reporters Wednesday.

“We also know that Russia is using advanced technology to facilitate filtration processes, including for the purposes of collecting data on Ukrainian citizens,” she said.

In its report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch described the filtration system as a “mass illegal data collection exercise” with “no legal underpinni­ngs.”

Ukrainians are funneled to registrati­on sites, where they are screened and then released or detained. Some have disappeare­d, according to Human Rights Watch, or were deported to Russia without identifica­tion documents.

Those who have gone through the system have had their phone contacts downloaded, fingerprin­ts and photograph­s taken and passport numbers collected, according to the Yale report, which was published last week.

The researcher­s said they found “with high confidence” that Russian and allied forces in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine have used 21 sites for “filtration operations.”

The sites include registrati­on points, temporary holding facilities, interrogat­ion centers and prisons for long-term detention.

The scale of the filtration system is “significan­t,” Nathaniel Raymond, executive director of the Humanitari­an Research Lab, said at the same briefing with reporters on Wednesday. The lab’s report is part of the Conflict Observator­y, a State Department-supported initiative to document Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

One of the locations identified by the report includes a school in Bezimenne, a village east of Mariupol. In May, The Post geolocated video clips showing the school, where men forcibly taken from Mariupol were detained, made to sleep on the floor and threatened with torture and execution, according to a Telegram post accompanyi­ng the footage.

Satellite images and videos verified by The Post in March showed Russian-backed forces building a tent city in the area. Russian authoritie­s described it at the time as a “life-supporting” center for refugees from Mariupol, while Ukrainian leaders accused Russia of taking residents to “filtration camps” against their will.

According to Human Rights Watch, some Ukrainians traveled to Russia voluntaril­y, including men who wanted to avoid martial law in Ukraine, which bars most military-age men from leaving the country.

It remains unclear exactly how many Ukrainians have been deported to Russia, or even subjected to the filtration screening process. In July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Russia had deported 900,000 to 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens — and that many of those “forcibly deported,” including 260,000 children, had ended up in Russia’s Far East.

In late June, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk put the number of Ukrainians forcibly moved to Russia at 1.2 million, while Russia has said nearly 2.5 million Ukrainian “refugees” had moved to the country.

Still, much remains unknown about the filtration system, including how Russian authoritie­s are using the data they collect and where many who were detained or transferre­d to Russia have ended up.

“This report is really to serve as a foundation for further investigat­ion, advocacy and hopefully access by the internatio­nal community to these sites that constitute, to be clear, a human rights emergency,” Raymond said.

 ?? Agence France-presse/getty Images ?? The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, the site of weeks of fighting. One of the “filtration” sites cited in a new report included a school near Mariupol that had appeared in video geolocated by The Post in May.
Agence France-presse/getty Images The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, the site of weeks of fighting. One of the “filtration” sites cited in a new report included a school near Mariupol that had appeared in video geolocated by The Post in May.

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