"Filtration" as part of Russia's planned genocide of Ukrainians
Arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, psychological pressure, sexual violence and threats of rape, enforced disappearances – such is the list of Russian war crimes against Ukrainians as reported by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Russian army and affiliated armed groups commit illegal actions against Ukrainians – in particular, during so-called "filtrations". This procedure is a gross violation of international humanitarian law, the organization emphasizes.
Sometimes, as one reads the stories of people who survived the horrors of the Russian occupation, they may get the impression that the invaders are bullying the Ukrainians undergoing "filtration" for no particular purpose but because the process itself gives them a perverse sense of pleasure. Take, for instance, the story of Maria Vdovichenko (17) from Mariupol, who was forced to undergo Russian "filtration" together with her parents in Mangush village, in the occupied part of Donetsk oblast. The family was allowed to leave in the end, but Maria's father was badly beaten because of a too "empty" cellphone. He lost his sight almost completely. Or take Lydia Tilna, 62, the principal of the Ivanove Lyceum in Kharkiv oblast, who survived Russian captivity. The woman was imprisoned for refusing to cooperate with Russia. For 19 days, Tilna was held at the Aggregate Plant in Vovchansk, Kharkiv oblast, where she was subjected to starvation, threats of being shot, had a sack thrown over her head, was forced to sing the Russian national anthem while kneeling. And then they just let her go...
However scary this may sound, but these stories are not unique overall. Similar testimonies of unlawful actions against Ukrainians on the part of the Russian forces can now be found not only in the Ukrainian media space, but also in foreign mass media. Western experts and international institutions agree increasingly often that the Russian "filtration" is not just a way to torture the "unreliable" citizens, but part of a grand plan of genocide of the Ukrainian people.
Read more about what Russian "filtration" is and how Russia tries to legitimize this criminal procedure in the article by the Institute of Mass Information.
How is Russia "filtering" Ukrainians and who are the primary targets?
"Filtration" is carried out in special "filtration camps", which are similar to "concentration camps". Russian forces have established them in the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories, as well as in Russia itself, at the border crossing checkpoints. The exact number of such "camps" where Ukrainians are being kept is currently unknown. In July 2022, the deputy head of the US mission to the OSCE, Courtney Austrian, announced that at least 18 "filtration camps" for detention and forced deportation of Ukrainians to Russia have been discovered. Moreover, according to the diplomat, Moscow had probably started the preparation for their establishment even before the start of the full-scale invasion into Ukraine. In August, Yale University researchers published a report wherein they listed at least 21 "filtration camps" where Russia was unlawfully detaining Ukrainians, and this is in Donetsk oblast alone.
In the course of "filtration", Russian occupiers and members of paramilitary groups take the Ukrainian citizens' passports away, search their cellphones and their persons, sometimes forcing them to undress completely, and question them. The UN has recorded Russian forces committing war crimes against the Ukrainians they believe elieved to have ties with the Ukrainian Armed Forces or state institutions, as well as against people who hold pro-Ukrainian views and those who fail to pass a loyalty check overall.
The experts of the Royal Joint Institute for Defense Research of Great Britain managed to establish that the Russian counterintelligence divides all Ukrainians in the temporarily occupied territories into four broad categories. The category each person falls under decides their fate. The first category includes those Ukrainians who, in the Russians' opinion, are subject to physical elimination. This pertains, in particular, to persons involved in the Revolution of Dignity in 2013–2014. People from this first FSB-assigned category are either to be exterminated immediately or taken prisoner for further "trial". The Russian special services probably include the Ukrainian military from the separate special forces unit "Azov" in this first category.
The aggressor country and its propaganda machine have always been making extra effort to demonize Azov, calling them "Nazis" and "war criminals." In August 2022, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation declared the Azov Battalion a "terrorist organization" (the formation had previously been proclaimed "extremist" in Russia – Ed.). However, even before that, in June, the Kremlin-controlled head of Russian-occupied Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, emphasized that "filtration" would involve extra thorough checks for the men, aimed at identifying those involved with the "Azov" battalion, as well as everybody who sympathizes with the Ukrainian fighters serving in this formation.
But let us go back to the categories into which the Russian occupying forces are dividing Ukrainians. The second category includes people whom Russia intends to suppress or intimidate to prevent their resistance. The Royal Joint Institute for Defense Research experts note that intimidating Ukrainians, as well as determining whether they should be transferred to Russia, were precisely the reasons for "filtration". By the way, according to the report, the Russian Federation planned to involve Russian teachers and officials to "re-educate" Ukrainians. The Russian occupying forces had previously prepared lists of people who fall under the second category, but the researchers note that those were drafts, that is, they were probably being amended in the course of "filtration".
Russia used intimidation tactics against multiple Ukrainian journalists as well. For example, in late April 2022, the international human rights organization Reporters Without Borders reported that Russian soldiers in the occupied Zaporizhzhia oblast had started compiling lists of journalists whom they planned to "either persuade to cooperate or silence." At the same time, the media of the region started receiving threats via email. The Russian occupiers also compiled lists of local public figures "to be kidnapped". And, finally, the third and fourth categories of Ukrainians in the occupied territories are those whom Russian counterintelligence considers neutral, who can be persuaded to cooperate, and those willing to cooperate.
A report posted on the US State Department website confirms that the occupiers' attitude towards this or that Ukrainian differ depending on their assessment of the threat this person poses to the Russian regime. Those considered the most dangerous are likely to be detained and imprisoned in eastern Ukraine or Russia. Very little is known of these people's fate. Those deemed less dangerous but still hostile are likely to be forcibly deported to Russia. However, those Ukrainian citizens who have been recognized as posing no threat may also be subject to forced transfer to the Russian Federation.
For instance, in a September 2022 report, the international organization Human Rights Watch spoke about numerous cases of intimidation and deception that Russian forces resorted to in order to force Ukrainians to leave for the Russian Federation. Ukrainians who survived "filtration" and went through forced displacement told the activists that they were often simply confronted with the fact: leaving for the Ukraine-controlled territory is impossible and "you better forget about it."
Moreover, Russian invaders spread false information about the actions and intentions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian authorities. In particular, they assured people that the Ukrainian side would punish and execute those who had lived under Russian occupation. The American Institute for the Study of War, which also mentioned cases of forcible deportation of Ukrainians to the Russian Federation in its October 2022 report, calls this unlawful practice "a deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign in addition to apparent violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."
Assessing the scale of the disaster
There are objective reasons as to why it is difficult to determine the exact number of victims of Russian "filtration" and filtration-related war crimes. First, Russia blocks all access to the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories. Secondly, we should not forget the cases of people who were detained, ended up in "filtration camps", deported, etc going missing. In December 2022, the International Commission on Missing Persons in The Hague reported that over 15,000 people had disappeared as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Therefore, when speaking about confirmed cases of war crimes, international institutions and human rights organizations usually note that the real number of victims of the Russian occupation may be higher. In September 2022, the US State Department, citing a wide range of sources, announced that from 900,000 to 1.6 million Ukrainians (particularly children – Ed.) have been forced through "filreation", interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported by Russian forces.
In turn, the international cooperation coordinator at the Centre for Civil Liberties, Oleksandra Drik, reports on over 17,000 recorded potential war crimes committed by the Russian army in Ukraine. Many of them were committed during "filtration", which is a procedure the Russian Federation introduced in the occupied Ukrainian territories back in 2014, the human rights activist notes. To sum up, interrogations, beatings, violence, taser torture, psychological pressure in the course of "filtration" are not isolated cases, but a systematic and organized strategy implemented by the Russian Federation, stresses Drik.
Sanctions for unlawful "filtration" of Ukrainians
In September 2022, the United States and the UN officially accused Russia of war crimes for forceful transfer of Ukrainians to Russian-controlled territories. In addition, representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded that the Russian Federation grant them and other independent observers access to all detention facilities which are under the aggressor state's control.
In early December 2022, the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control announced they were introducing sanctions against four individuals who were directly involved in Russia's "filtration operations" against Ukrainians. Involved in the planning and implementation of "filtration" points in the occupied territories were, among others, Oleg Nesterov and Evgeniy Kim, officials of the Russian President's Administration. They oversaw the "filtration" of city government officials and other civilians from Mariupol, namely through a "filtration center" in Mangush. Witnesses reported food supplies being insufficient, cells being overcrowded, and prisoners being beaten at this "camp". What's more, one of the witnesses heard Russian soldiers discussing the people who had passed "filtration" in Mangush and were then shot. Marina Sereda, a Russian citizen who worked with the "Ministry of Internal Affairs" of the "DPR" paramilitary group, helping them manage filtration points in the Russian-occupied Donetsk oblast of Ukraine, was also included in the US sanctions list. The fourth sanctioned person was Alexei Muratov, who positions himself as an "officer" of the "DNR" paramilitary group. Together with his Russian protégé, the leader of the "DNR" Denys Pushylin, he coordinated the work of the "filtration points".
Subsequently, as part of the ninth package of sanctions, the EU Council introduced new restrictions against nearly 200 individuals and legal entities, who, among other things, are also accused of forced deportation of the Ukrainian people, in particular children. The sanctions lists include the following: servicepeople of the Russian Armed Forces and various branches of the military, members of the Russian State Duma and the Federation Council, ministers, governors, as well as propagandists (namely, the host and CEO of the state TV channel "Spas", Boris Korchevnikov. – Ed.) who produce and spread misinformation and promote the pro-Kremlin agenda. The EU's restrictive measures include: a ban on the sanctioned persons from entering the territory of EU countries or using them for transit, freezing the assets of the sanctioned persons, as well as a ban on EU citizens and companies providing them with funds.
"Filtration is a necessary measure:" Russia's ways of justifying war crimes against Ukrainians
Despite all the evidence regarding Russia's "filtration" of Ukrainians, as well as other war crimes that take place during and after this unlawful procedure, the terrorist state, as always, pleads not guilty.
The Institute of Mass Information decided to outline the techniques Russia resorts to when covering the topics of "filtration" and forced deportation of Ukrainians in order to justify the war crimes committed by Russian forces. For this purpose, IMI monitored eight Russian resources with ties to the Kremlin (Lenta.ru, TASS, RIA Novosti, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Ukraina.ru, Regnum, Moskovsky Komsomolets, RT). The monitoring period spanned from January 1 to December 22, 2022. The search for content to study was carried out with the help of an AI – the Semantrum monitoring robot.
As it turned out, the topic of "filtration" of Ukrainians is unpopular in the Russian infospace – there are few mentions of this unlawful procedure in pro-Kremlin resources. All articles on the state-affiliated websites which mention "filtration" in some way or another can be divided into four broad categories:
- Fakes denying that "filtration" and "filtration camps" exist altogether. This is the line usually taken by Russian officials. For instance, in order to justify Russia's actions, Russia's permanent representative at the UN, Vasiliy Nebenzia, calls the "filtration" of Ukrainians "registration", alluding that it is merely the usual passport control procedure that foreigners go through when crossing the border into another country. He also states that accusing Russia of war crimes is "Ukraine's propaganda campaign against the Russian Federation." For their part, representatives of the Russian embassy in the United States called the reports of Russian "filtration camps" Washington's "speculations".
- Fakes about Ukraine "filtering" the civilian population. Perhaps the most common tactic Kremlin propaganda uses to try and deny Russia's war crimes is shifting the blame. Russian media resources actively produce and reproduce about the "filtration" being carried out not by Russian forces, but by the mythical Ukrainian "Nazis / bandero-fascists / radicals" who act on Kyiv's orders and aim to identify and punish those who sympathize with the Russian regime. The spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, delivers such scary stories on a regular basis. She claims that the Ukrainian "filtration" procedure – which, as you know, is not a thing and has never been – kills Ukrainian civilians. Right away she stresses that reports of these executions are coming from those Ukrainian territories where "the allied forces have withdrawn from." This way, the spokeswoman of the Russian MFA is trying not just to demonize the Ukrainian government and the UAF, but also to shift the blame for the war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in the occupied territories of Ukraine onto Ukrainians themselves. The Kremlin is aware that de-occupation will entail examination and publication of new photo and video evidence of Russian war crimes, which will spread over the Internet. So, as soon as the Russian army is defeated in a certain segmet of the front line, Moscow-controlled media resources start churning out fake news about "punitive 'filtration operations'" carried out by Ukraine. Namely, this was the case after Izyum (Kharkiv oblast) was de-occupied.
- Kyiv promises to carry out "filtration" of the Izyum population (Lenta.ru)
- Ukrainian authorities announce plans for a population filtration in Izyum (TASS)
- Source says that Zelensky only met with the military in Izyum (TASS)
- The Public Chamber warns of an upcoming Ukrainian provocation in Izyum ("Moscovsky Komsomolets")
- Ordinary fascism. How the UAF punish the people of Kharkiv oblast (RIA Novosti)
Another signature feature of Russian fakes about Ukrainian "filtration" is the Polish military making a cameo. Kremlin propaganda portrays them as "NATO mercenaries" who, disguised in Ukrainian military uniforms, are "purging" pro-Russian Ukrainians. In this way, Russian pro-government resources assign the role of the belligerent anti-Russian party to the Alliance. This, accordingly, fuels the Kremlin's narratives about Russia fighting not just against Ukraine, but against NATO, or about the Alliance provoking the Russian-Ukrainian war.
- Source: Polish SWAT to search for "Russia's accomplices" in Marganets (RIA)
- Russian serviceman reports on Polish SWAT in Dnipropetrovsk oblast (“Lenta.ru”)
- Polish SWAT arrives in Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk oblast (Regnum)
- Polish SWAT to search for "Russia's accomplices" in a Ukrainian city ("Moscovsky Komsomolets")
- RIA Novosti: Polish SWAT arrives to Dnipro to identify "Russia's accomplices" (RT)
An explanation as to why reports of Polish "mercenaries" in Ukraine are fake is available on the "Vox Ukraine" analytical platform's website.
- News that confirm reports of Russia's "filtration operations" on Ukrainians, but deny their punitive nature. In order to hide what is really happening and to downplay the war crimes of the Russian army, the aggressor country resorts to a sort of "newspeak". Besides the already mentioned "registration", anlawful "filtration" is called "verification". Propaganda resources write about it as if it is a standard security procedure, which is supposed to be quick and unproblematic. Therefore, we can assume that whenever the Russian media space features reports that are "critical" of the "filtration", this is also not by happenstance, but an attempt to legitimize this procedure. For example, Nikolai Chigasov, who works for the pro-government "Lenta.ru", published a report wherein he compiled testimonies about the undergoing "filtration" allegedly taken from Ukrainians who left for Russia due to the active hostilities. One of the report's heroines, a Yulia from Mariupol (the text does not mention the woman's full name nor has a photo of her attached. – Ed.), complains that her husband was interrogated at the Russian border for almost three hours, although they were promised that the procedure would take no more than an hour. However, she also notes the benevolent attitude of the employees of the Russian "temporary accommodation center" towards her and her child. As for the "filtering" in Russian-occupied Donetsk, Yulia says that the procedure lasted an hour to an hour and a half, and the contents of their phones were checked to ensure the devices were not stolen. In other respects, Chigasov's "critical" report is a kind of "medley" consisting of manipulation and disinformation, the Kremlin's narratives, and a set of stereotypes about Ukrainians, whom Russian propaganda have been portraying as ignorant and helpless ever since the Soviet times. In fact, "Lenta's" article opens with a description of a woman at the bus station in Taganrog (Russia) scolding her adult son for being unable to buy a train ticket: "We'd be better off staying here. How are we supposed to travel around in Russia if we can't even buy tickets?"
Let us go back to Russian "newspeak", however. Russian officials and Kremlin-controlled resources have invented euphemisms to refer not only to "filtration" itself, but also to "filtration camps". Those are called "crossing checkpoints" or "temporary accommodation points". While the forcible deportation of Ukrainians to the Russian Federation or the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories is referred to as "rescue" and "evacuation" of civilians from areas of active hostilities. However, in their September 2022 report, the international organization Human Rights Watch stresses: the displacement of civilians cannot be justified as being on humanitarian grounds if "the humanitarian crisis triggering the displacement is itself the result of unlawful activity by those in charge of the transfers." The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union notes: deportation and forced transfer of civilians in the occupied territory are prohibited by international humanitarian law and may be considered war crimes or crimes against humanity, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Also, speaking of "filtration" as part of Russia's planned large-scale genocide of Ukrainians, it is worth noting that this unlawful procedure may result in children being separated from their parents and subsequently forcibly deported to the Russian Federation. Such war crimes by Russians have been recorded, in particular, by the human rights organization Amnesty International in its November 2022 report. The transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia is not only a violation of international humanitarian law, but also falls within the scope of genocide as defined in the second article of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The list of unlawful acts committed with the intention of exterminating a national group in whole or in part, according to the document, includes "forcible transfer of children from one group to another."
- News that admit Russia's "filtration operations" with regards to Ukrainians and justify their punitive nature. It is obvious that not everyone can talk about the "filtration" of Ukrainians without using "masking" words in the Russian media space. But there is a pool of "chosen ones" to who are not only given a carte blanche to use the phrase by the Kremlin, but also allowed to talk about the punitive nature of Russia's "filtration operations". Often these are representatives of Moscow-controlled paramilitary groups and retired servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces. Less often, propagandists who pose as "military experts", "political scientists", etc. can also comment on the topic of punitive "filtration".
- DPR leader Pushilin says purging operations in downtown Mariupol still ongoing (RT)
- "No rat in sheep's clothing will pass:" Colonel Alexander Denisov says about the Rosguard's work in the liberated territories (RT)
- The fate of Azov leaders Kalyna and Volyna ar "Azovstal" predicted ("Moscovsky Komsomolets")
- Military expert comments on a possible swap of prisoners from "Azovstal" ("Moscovsky Komsomolets")
- Expert: filtration of Ukrainian refugees is needed in peacetime as well as now (Regnum)
- Expert: Strict filtration of refugees from Ukraine is necessary (Regnum)
They do not shy away from aggressive rhetoric, because they talk about "filtering" as a "necessary measure" to identify the "enemies of Russia", "extremists", "Nazis", "fascists", "radicals" and "saboteurs". All of these are euphemisms that seek to dehumanize the victim group and justify further war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine. Most of all, with such articles, propaganda demonizes the participants of the 2013–2014 Revolution of Dignity, as well as the Ukrainian soldiers and all who support them. By the way, Russian resources and Kremlin aides acting as "experts" may not even use the word "filtration" with regards to the listed categories of people, as they use the Chekist term "purge" to refer to the procedure.
The fact that it is often representatives of the Moscow-controlled paramilitary groups who comment on forceful "filtration" is quite likely no accident. We assume that in this way the Kremlin is trying to create an illusion that "filtration" is not an initiative authorized "from above", but what the people in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian territories demand. Similarly, in 2014, the Russian Federation used the alleged "will of the people" to justify the outbreak of war against Ukraine and the invasion of the Donbas. A September 16, 2022 article on the pro-government website Regnum confirms this theory, as it features calls for "filtering" the population of the Russian-occupied Luhansk oblast, which are supposedly coming from the locals themselves.
"Some people believe that saboteurs have penetrated the liberated territories because no one is filtering the population, letting everything take its own course. "The citizens believe that it is better for the authorities to disturb the locals one more time than to be killed by a terrorist attack together with them later," Regnum writes.
This article was triggered by the explosion in the building of the Kremlin-controlled "general prosecutor's office" of the"LPR" paramilitary group, which killed Russian shill Sergey Gorenko, who was acting as the "general prosecutor" in the Russian-occupied territories of Luhansk oblast.
The Institute of Mass Information considers it necessary to draw the international community's attention to the way Russian resources associated with the Kremlin are trying to justify or conceal the "filtration" of Ukrainians and other war crimes committed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine. We share the opinion of those experts and institutions that stress the need to consider Russia's "filtering operations" against Ukrainians as part of their grand plan of genocide against the Ukrainian people. And we hope that everyone involved in its conception and implementation will stand before the court and be duly punished.
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