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“All thoughts about concentration camps from the 30s and 50s come true”. What happens in Russian filtration camps

With the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in the temporarily occupied territories, the Russian military began to organize filtration measures: to detain, check, interrogate, torture and sometimes kill Ukrainians who, in their opinion, “threaten them”. Anyone can get into filtration camps: from the military and volunteers who bring medicine or food to children leaving the temporarily occupied territories with their parents. 

At the end of August 2022, Yale University researchers identified at least 21 filtration camps in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. According to the report, there are four types of facilities in the filtration process: registration, confinement, secondary interrogation and detention.

Journalist Anna Fratsyvir talked to a volunteer who spent almost three months in the filtration camp in Olenivka.

A civilian is patted down at a checkpoint near Mariupol.
Photo: Anadolu Agency

Ihor is a volunteer who took people out of the temporarily occupied Mariupol. On March 19, Ihor was stopped at a checkpoint: he was not allowed to pass and was taken off the bus. 

“I got to the camp because I was evacuating civilians from Mariupol. At first, I spent a night in Manhush, a few days in Dokuchaievsk and Donetsk, and then got to Olenivka. Most likely, they had a team to take away anyone who looked even a bit suspicious,” says Ihor.

Before being taken to Olenivka, the volunteer was interrogated and detained in different places. In each area, Ihor noted inhuman detention conditions and ill-treatment by Russians and collaborators. 

“The first day was detention; I was grabbed at the checkpoint and thrown into a pit. There were four of us there – another border guard and two conscripts. We spent five hours in the pit; then, we were taken to Manhush to the district police department, where we were registered. They interrogated, undressed me, and looked at my phone and documents. After that, they sent me to the cell,” – the man says.

In addition to interrogation, Ukrainians are forced to sign obscure documents. They [Russians – ed] do not give time to read the papers and threaten with violence and weapons. Ihor was accused of collaboration with terrorists and propaganda of terrorism.

“There was no reason for the detention; they did not allow me to look over the documents but forced me to sign them under threats of physical violence. There is barely any time to read that you refuse а lawyer, that the authorities have to inform your relatives and that you have the right not to testify against your relatives and yourself, but it did not work that way,” – Ihor noted.

The next stop was Dokuchaievsk, a town between Donetsk and Mariupol, which has been under Russian occupation since 2014. 

“In the morning, they took us out one by one, tied our hands with duct tape, and closed our eyes. We arrived in Dokuchaievsk, and there was a monument to Lenin, and it was as if you were in the Soviets [Soviet Union – ed]. There were interrogations again. My hands turned blue because the tape pinched them.

I did not eat for three days, and only in the evening, they gave me a piece of bread and tea. I could not lie in the cell because it was narrow and long. There were 16 of us there,” says Ihor.

According to the law, a detained person must have at least 3 square meters of his own space in the cell. However, the norms do not apply in Russian filtration camps: 28 people are crammed into a cell for 4-6 people. In Olenivka, about fifty people are kept in a cell for 6-8 people. In addition, the volunteer witnessed the ill-treatment of detainees.

“I saw people with burns from the polygraph, tortured with electricity. There were cases when border guards were taken out of their cells and beaten. The Russians have rubber gloves with iron pads – they beat the prisoners till they were barely conscious and threw them back into the cell. Once a guy in the barracks refused to do anything and returned with dark blue legs from the beatings. In fact, there was no day when they did not beat anyone,” says the volunteer. 

Yale University researchers emphasise that “the conditions of detention documented in the report likely include unsanitary conditions, lack of food and water, cramped conditions and torture.” Ihor confirms this. 

“We were poorly fed and sometimes did not get food at all. In the morning, we would get only bread and tea. There were about 30 plates for 150-180 people and even fewer spoons.”

“You stand in line to eat from a dirty plate, after which you still want to eat. There was no water at all. They gave twenty litres for the whole barrack, which is 120-180 people. And in the cells, they gave water in bottles that were supposed to be found. It was a kind of challenge. If there are bottles, – we will get water. If not, they give 2 litres for 20-50 people”, – the man says. 

According to Ihor, the detainees were neither given clothes, nor they could wash their faces for a long time. The situation with medicines was also tricky. We often lacked medicines, and sometimes guerrillas brought them. Medical care was almost never provided to the detainees. 

“There was no medical examination as such. If the temperature is below 38, everything is fine; your condition is normal. If it got higher, we would get aspirin. Nobody cared what was happening in the barracks. A bullet in the body was considered a serious injury, then they changed the bandage every 2-3 days,” said Ihor. 

He also mentions that Olenivka is a typical zone from Soviet films: dogs barking, conveyors with machine guns, you are broken and pulled out of the car, shabby walls and wind around you.

Russian filtration camps are a violation of any norms of international law. These are places where people are tortured, do not receive proper care and are held in terrible conditions. 

Translated by Oleksandra Sobol