Russian filtration camps: ‘Black holes of human rights abuses’ where Ukrainians face torture and loyalty tests
“New details are emerging about the scope and scale of Russia’s use of ‘filtration camps,’ makeshift detention centers Russia and proxy forces use to hold, interrogate and deport hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians,” writes Investigative Reporter Jason Paladino. I asked him a few questions about his latest report.
CH: What did you find in your investigation of Russia’s “filtration camps” for Ukrainians?
JP: By combing through social media posts, intel reports of several countries, firsthand accounts in local news and interviews with human rights organizations, we found that Russian and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine are detaining, interrogating and deporting many people through a system of camps known as “filtration camps.” 18 to 20 of these camps have been identified by human rights organizations and governments, but there may be more. While it’s unknown just how many people have passed through the camps, the U.S. State Department estimated between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians, including children.
Though Russian authorities claim these are humanitarian in nature, emerging firsthand accounts tell a different story. Starvation, beatings, mock executions and humiliation seem to be common in these camps, which are designed to reveal Ukrainians with connections to resistance fighters or sympathies to Ukraine. Those who are deemed to be not a threat are sometimes shipped thousands of miles to remote areas in Russia. We know very little of what happens to those who remain in the camps.
CH: How are these camps connected to Soviet and Russian history?
JP: We spoke with experts who tie the filtration camps to a World War II-era system of imprisonment, interrogation and intimidation. More recently, these camps were used during the Chechen wars in the 1990s to detain tens of thousands, and subsequent human rights reports have exposed horrific crimes that occurred within them.
CH: What stood out to you most as you reported this story?
JP: I was struck by the disconnect between the firsthand accounts from the camps and the Russian official narrative of the purpose of these camps. The Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., for example, called reports of abuse in the filtration camps “poor quality Western disinformation.”
As more evidence of these camps emerges, it will be difficult for Russia to deny the abuses that occur within, but I expect they will continue to do so.
CH: And what are you looking out for moving forward?
JP: I am looking out for more firsthand accounts, especially of those who manage to escape the camps if they were deemed to be a threat by Russian officials. I will also be monitoring Russian news sources and social media as hundreds of thousands of displaced Ukrainians arrive in far-flung regions of Russia.
Jason Paladino is an investigative reporter for Grid where he focuses on national security policy, U.S. foreign involvement and corruption.
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