Nearly six months after Russia’s large-scale war against Ukraine, in which up to 1.6 million Ukrainians have been forcibly brought to Russia so far, Ukrainian authorities say Russian troops are now using civilians as cannon fodder on the front lines and pretending artillery strikes. to trick them into crossing the border.
Just this week, Ukrainian authorities in Kozacha Lopan, a village occupied by Russian forces in the Kharkiv region, said residents were herded and forcibly “evacuated” to Russia’s Belgorod region after being tricked by soldiers into boarding buses. who told them to leave to escape “intense shelling” in the area. There was no such shelling, authorities said.
In the occupied Luhansk region, authorities say that this week alone, 80 civilian men in the city of Starobilsk have been forcibly sent to the front lines to die before Russian forces forcibly took control of the area.
It’s all part of a “Kafka-esque system” that Russia has set up to systematically exterminate the Ukrainian population by violently “Russifying” hundreds of thousands of civilians, according to a new report that elaborates on Russia’s network of “filtration camps.” for refugees.
The Center for Information Resilience, a non-profit organization that uses open source information to track Russia’s activities in Ukraine, has compiled a new dossier — shared with The Daily Beast — on the network of camps and temporary accommodation centers Moscow uses to kidnapping literally hundreds of thousands. of Ukrainians in plain sight.
“Ukrainian refugees are given the illusion of choice from the moment of their capture to their involuntary settlement on Russian soil. They are trapped in a Kafka-esque system that works against them. Their forced displacement is just the beginning of the long-lasting effects of the war on the Ukrainian people. Held under the watchful eye of the invading forces from the moment of their capture until their forceful deployment on Russian soil, there is no safe way to escape a process where the wrong answer could cost them their lives,” the report reads.
During five months of war, Russian forces have routinely fired on evacuation buses carrying residents to safety in Ukraine-controlled territory, blocked roads to thwart such evacuations, and in other cases seized fleeing Ukrainians for use in propaganda videos for the Russian media. the report notes. In one case, Mikhail Pankov, a Ukrainian history teacher who served as an evacuation bus driver, was captured by Russian troops before appearing, blindfolded, in a segment on Russian television alleging he had been detained on Russian territory while allegedly acting as spotter for the Ukrainian army.
“I beg you, please give my daddy back. We are doing very badly without him, we miss him. Bring back my daddy,” Pankov’s 12-year-old daughter pleaded in a heartbreaking social media video after his arrest in May.
The Center for Information Resilience’s 30-page report also identifies the locations of 11 “filtration” camps in the occupied Donetsk region. While Russia claimed the camps are simply “checkpoints” for refugees seeking safety, arriving refugees are often surrounded by heavily armed Russian troops and greeted by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service.
Forebodingly, secretly filmed footage in one of the camps in Donetsk, located by the Center for Information Resilience at a school in the village of Bezimenne on the outskirts of Mariupol, showed hundreds of Ukrainian men being held captive despite Russia’s ” filtration process”.
A man held in the same building who took the footage and shared it on Telegram said the Russians supervising the detainees had heard that they had not yet decided whether to use the men to fight for the Russian army or as “labour for the demolition of the Mariupol rubble,” the report says.
“While in Russian custody, many refugees report that they are being interrogated intensively, often with verbal abuse, threats or even physical violence. According to reports, some people were simply never seen again.”
In many other cases, those who went through the Russian “filtration” process described being shook for bribes, or having their phones seized by Russian interrogators to get them back with newly installed programs designed to track their activities. .
Journalist Stanislav Miroshnichenko described the trial to Current Time TV in mid-June. “A person I spoke to saw a program on his phone. It was a particular file uploaded to his phone via Bluetooth. In my opinion it was called ‘Eavesdropping on the Ministry of the Interior’. I asked him if he had tried to remove the program from his phone. He replied that after he left he had turned off the phone and hadn’t used it. He didn’t know how to remove it,” he said.
Those who do pass are reportedly transported deep into Russia, where they report additional interrogations before being met in temporary shelters by Russian state media urging them to praise Moscow’s supposed humanitarian efforts towards refugees.
The Russian regions of Voronezh, Rostov and Krasnodar are said to have served as settlements for most of the deported Ukrainians, who are often promised work, payments and housing they never get – or “free land” that turns out to be deep in the wilderness and close to trees. and swamps.
“Caught in a system that forces them into Russia while presenting the illusion of choice, most will not have the money, the connections or even the mobility to escape,” the report notes.
Many refugees also find that their new housing in Russia comes with heavy obligations. While the Russian authorities are handing out 10,000 rubles (about $175) to arriving Ukrainian families, if they want to stay, they have to pay more than half of that.
“They complained that they are getting a one-time payment of 10,000 and paying 6,000 for the… [mandatory] Russian language exam,” a Russian woman who works with refugees told The Daily Beast.
“Everything” [the families I’ve worked with]only one supported Putin,” she said on condition of anonymity.
Perhaps worst of all, thousands of children have been dragged into Russia’s mass kidnapping scheme — many of them called “orphans” and adopted into new Russian families, a fact that both Vladimir Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, have shared. openly jumped.
While Russian state media has given glowing coverage of the Kremlin’s alleged “humanitarian” efforts to take in Ukrainian children they believe have been rescued from orphanages near the front lines, Ukrainian authorities have said the so-called “orphans” they have snatched, especially in Mariupol, were actually snatched from their families.
“Among those brought to the Russian Federation are new orphans who have lost their parents as a result of the war, and children from families that have been separated. We know of cases where children were simply taken from their parents,” Pyotr Andryushchenko, an aide to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, said in late June.
“We are sure that this is just part of the ‘denazification’ that aims to get as many Ukrainian children out of the Ukrainian population as possible. We understand very well, after what happened in Mariupol, that if children have to go through the adoption procedure within two or three years, given the age they are at, it will be very difficult to find their parents, and they will do not remember myself, ”said Andryushchenko.
Independent news channel Verstka reported in late June that hundreds of unaccompanied Ukrainian children have been taken to a sports complex in Taganrog, Russia’s Rostov region. Some of those children were later transferred to the Moscow region, where they were handed over to Russian families.
The Center for Information Resilience has located the makeshift temporary housing center where children were held in Taganrog and identified it as the Dvorets Sports Complex. In mid-March, a third of the refugees in the center were between 3 and 10 years old, according to their report.
The families of thousands of Ukrainian children who went missing during the chaotic early days of the large-scale invasion of Russia are still looking for their children months later.
Tatyana and Yelena, two grandmothers from Mariupol, are among the most heartbreaking examples. Their toddler granddaughter, Nastya, disappeared along with both her parents when the town was heavily shelled on March 12, Verstka said. The building where Nastya lived with both parents – Tatyana and Yelena’s daughter and son – burned down after a direct hit, but none of their bodies were found in the wreckage.
Five months later, Tatyana told Verstka, she saw a little girl she was sure was Nastya, who was described as an “orphan” in images broadcast by Russian state media last month showing Ukrainian children were taken in by their new Russian adoptive families near Moscow.
She remembered her husband searching the house for a sedative to calm her down. After sending Yelena the images, she too agreed that it was the missing granddaughter.
But after weeks of negotiations with Russian authorities to verify the little girl’s identity, a much-anticipated meeting turned out to be disappointing, Tatyana said. Although the Russian authorities did not agree to bring the girl in person, they provided photos and videos of her being inspected by family friends who knew her well.
“It’s not Nastya. They couldn’t make a mistake. It’s not her nose, not her big blue eyes,” Tatyana said.
She and Elena now continue their search for both their children and their granddaughter, who Tatyana remembers having always refused to pick flowers like other children, believing that both the flower bud and the flowers were meant to grow together as one whole family. stay.
“She thought the mother would get hurt as well as the children – the flowers – would get hurt. If they are separated, the buds will wilt and die.”