Russian media is now bragging about the one aspect of the Ukraine invasion where Russia is actually demonstrating an ability to conduct operations on a frighteningly large scale. That thing doesn’t involve standing up to the Ukrainian military; it involves the wholesale processing of Ukrainian civilians for torture, kidnapping, and enslavement.
Back in early April, Yahoo News took a look at the filtration camps Russia had created at that point, and at the degrading conditions faced by Ukrainians who found themselves placed in one of these camps.
“The filtration camps, described as large plots of military tents with rows of men in uniforms, are where deported Ukrainians are photographed, fingerprinted, forced to turn over their cellphones, passwords and identity documents, and then questioned by officers for hours before being sent to Russia.”
At the time of that report on April 7, the Bezimenne camp in the Russian-occupied area of Donetsk had processed over 40,000 Ukrainians to be “exfiltrated” to Russia. That number can be expected to be much higher now, as Russia continues to send Ukrainians to unknown locations in Russia. On April 11, the Russian military gave an astounding number of 723,000 Ukrainians “evacuated” from Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion. That number could now be much higher.
For those who have any association with the Ukrainian military, the Ukrainian government, as well as foreign journalists, or for anyone so unfortunate as to be suspected of any connection to the Azov Regiment, the situation is much worse than being fingerprinted and robbed before being stuck on a bus for who knows where.
"The filtration camps are like ghettos," she says. "Russians divide people into groups. Those who were suspected of having connections with the Ukrainian army, territorial defence, journalists, workers from the government - it's very dangerous for them. They take those people to prisons to Donetsk, torture them."
How many people have been executed and buried in mass graves outside Mariupol isn’t clear, but based on the size of those graves and the numbers already exhumed in Bucha and other locations around Kyiv, these graves are expected to contain thousands, if not tens of thousands.
Mariupol is far from the only place where people are being rounded up and shipped to these camps. Prisoners have been taken from their homes in other occupied areas like Kherson, and the some of those who have managed to escape have reported Russia is holding civilians from as far north as engineers from Chernobyl.
The term “filtration camp” goes back to World War II, when the USSR held people, including Russians, in these camps to filter out those who didn’t have “appropriate” political beliefs, and to distribute people where the government felt they were needed. The term resurfaced following Russia’s two wars with Chechnya, where at least 200,000 people were held in the first war alone. Human Rights Watch published a report on these camps appropriately titled “Welcome to Hell” in which they recorded accounts of widespread torture, beatings, and executions. Many Chechens were simply “disappeared” from these camps, either to be murdered to shipped to labor camps elsewhere in Russia. Another aspect of these camps that was reported to be common was rape and sexual abuse of women and girls. And reports of rape by Russian soldiers were not restricted to women.
In case there was any doubt, detention and deportation of civilians is a war crime. But, as with the other war crimes Russia has already committed, punishing the guilty, much less any restitution for those individuals and families destroyed by this process, may be difficult to obtain.
Whether camps like Bezimenne will be ultimately remembered with the same kind of enduring disgust as those as Buchenwald or Bergen-Belsen remains to be seen. Right now, the biggest question may be: If Russia says they have exported over 700,000 Ukrainians to Russia, where are they?
There are reports on Saturday of fairly extensive fighting northeast of Kharkiv in what may represent a serious Ukrainian counter offensive.
On this map, the blue markers are villages and towns recently recaptured and secured by Ukrainian forces. The yellow markers are locations where Russian troops are reportedly facing a Ukrainian counter-assault.
Just look at how clean and pretty these are. I’d like to think the Danish forces keep their equipment like this all the time. Somehow it seems right. Notice 50 more M113s on the way to supplement that ones the US has already been shipping out. But the US ones won’t have such a peachy paint scheme.
CNN is now reporting that evacuations of civilians from the Azovstal plant are now underway.
Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, said the ceasefire, which was supposed to begin at 6 a.m. local time, ended up starting at 11 a.m. local time.
"As of now, it's the truth, both sides follow the ceasefire regime," he said.
At the moment, it seems that only 20 people have been evacuated. They’re described as “women, children, and elderly” who were “rescued from under the rubble.” So possibly survivors of the hospital Russia bombed earlier in the week.
"We hope that this process will be further extended and we will successfully evacuate all civilians," he said.
It seems unlikely that the UN and Red Cross would be on site if there wasn’t going to be a significantly larger evacuation. But nothing is certain.
It could well be that Russia has come to the conclusion that letting the civilians leave Azovstal would either allow them to take more forces from Mariupol to use elsewhere, or to be even more brutal toward any fighters who remain.
To get a sense of how inadequate it would be to just let 20 people out…
Yes, Russia sure does seem to be against all those Nazis.
I especially like the part where, after this statement, the other Russian pundit steps in to say that Fish and chips is actually a Russian invention.
UN officials are reportedly still in Mariupol, attempting to negotiate additional evacuations of civilians. Meanwhile, multiple reports indicate civilians still fleeing into the Azovstal plant in an attempt to escape the brutality Russia has been demonstrating in the rest of Mariupol.
Listen to Markos and Kerry Eleveld talk Ukraine and speak with Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler on how hitting back at Republicans helps win elections on Daily Kos’ The Brief podcast