Report details alleged abuse of Ukrainians at Russian filtration camps

Russian interrogators threatened to put a bullet in a 58-year-old Ukrainian pensioner's head and bury him where no one would find him if he didn't give them $5,000, according to a report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch.

"Then one man came in with a rifle and threatened to cut off my ear to play with it," said the man, identified only as Anatolii V. to protect his identity, about his experience in a so-called filtration camp in Russian-held territory in Ukraine.

Anatolii V., who is now in Germany, was among dozens of Ukrainians whose horrifying accounts are laid out in detail in the HRW report on the Russian camps.

The report comes amid mounting allegations from U.S. and Ukrainian officials about the filtration camps, where Ukrainians are allegedly forced to undergo invasive security checks and interrogations as they flee Russian-held areas. Russian authorities have forcibly brought some of the Ukrainians into Russia, or simply made them disappear, according to the report.

"During the process, [separatist Donetsk People's Republic] or Russian officials collected civilians' biometric data, including fingerprints and photographs of their face looking forward and in profile; searched their bodies, belongings and phones; and questioned them about their political views and ties to Ukrainian armed forces and government agencies," the Human Rights Watch report says. "While for some the wait lasted only hours, many had to remain near the filtration centers for between three days and up to almost a month, waiting to undergo interrogation."

HRW's report quotes family members as saying "those who 'failed' the filtration process in the [Donetsk People's Republic], apparently due to their suspected ties to the Ukrainian military or national groups, were detained and some forcibly disappeared."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in July that an estimated 900,000 to 1.6 million Ukrainians, including 260,000 children, had been "interrogated, detained and forcibly deported" to Russia, adding that the forced deportations are a war crime.

A U.S. intelligence assessment from June said filtration operations had been identified in "18 possible locations in eastern Ukraine and western Russia," with more likely yet to be detected. Last week, a State Department-funded program released a report that documented 21 sites allegedly linked to filtration operations in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region alone, much of which has been controlled by Russian forces or their separatist allies for months.

"This adds to the growing body of credible reporting and evidence on filtration operations that should deeply concern us all," the State Department said.

Russia has denied the allegations, claiming that it's providing humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians from occupied areas.

Anatolii V. told HRW that Russian forces had also detained his stepson during house-to-house searches. He said his stepson was released after three weeks in custody, with six broken ribs and a broken jaw.

When a Ukrainian volunteer tried to rescue 17 children from a Mariupol health care facility, Russian-backed forces put the children on a bus and drove them to the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, which is controlled by Russian backed separatist, HRW said. The whereabouts of 11 of the children were still unknown, according to the report.

Two teenage brothers feeling Mariupol were forcibly separated from their mother, who previously served in Ukraine's armed forces, the report says. After authorities promised they would be reunited with their mother, they were eventually retrieved by their father who lives in Russia, according the the report. Russian authorities told the man that the younger son would be placed in an orphanage. The mother's fate is unknown, HRW said.

Ukrainians told the New York-based international rights group that the conditions in the filtration camps where they were held were squalid, with little food and sickness spreading.

"The evidence of Russian forces interrogating, detaining, and forcibly deporting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, including children, continues to mount," U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said last week. "Their reasons are clear: They want to destroy Ukraine — its culture, its people, its very existence."

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