There have been murmurings of Ukrainian civilians being sent to Russian filtration camps setup in occupied sections of Ukraine. The solid information that we have on the details of these camps is scarce but there is also historical context that may fill in the gaps of our information.
What We Know
Yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the existence of these camps directly when he said, “Although the honest name for them is really different – it’s concentration camps. Those that were built by the Nazis of their time. Ukrainians from these camps – the survivors – are sent further into the occupied territory and Russia. Siberia, even to Vladivostok. Children are being deported, hoping that they will forget where their home is, where they are from. And they are from Ukraine.”
Now, if these camps are as Zelensky described is unclear. Despite those in the west generally seeing Ukraine as having the moral high ground, the Ukrainian officials are proficient players of the information war surrounding this conflict. It isn’t out of the question that this description is exaggerated.
However, two Ukrainian citizens who were held in one of these filtration camps recently gave and interview to the BBC. One of them described the camp as, “truly like a concentration camp.” They claim that they were fingerprinted, photographed, and then interrogated for hours by Russian security. The Russians apparently thoroughly went through phones and paid special attention to call history, photographs and all contact information. Those incarcerated in this camp claimed that anyone suspected as being a Nazi was taken to Donetsk for “investigation or murder.” The elderly in the camps were reportedly forced to sleep in hallways without any mattress or blanket. Dysentery was apparently rampant in the camp due to only one toilet and sink for all those imprisoned.
With all the stories from those held in these camps, we begin to get a clear picture of what happens. The Russian military is taking in as many civilians as possible into filtration camps which have inhumane conditions. They then comb through the civilians to find those likely to cause problems for the Russian occupiers. Those sought after are Ukrainians with connections to the Ukrainian military, journalists, and any government workers. Any who seem to pose a threat to a prolonged Russian occupation are then sent to prisons in Donetsk.
The Historical Context
Russians employed a very similar strategy during both Chechen wars. The Russian human right group Memorial — which was interestingly put out of business by the Russian government this year for “creating a false image of the Soviet Union as a terrorist state” — reported that 200,000 Chechens were put through filtration camps. These Chechens were then subjected to beatings and torture. Some were even summarily executed. Memorial claimed that the purpose of these filtration camps was to install a system which allowed for suppression and intimidation of Chechens via a process of arbitrary arrests and detention of innocent people who were then subjected to horrific conditions.
In the year 2000, Human Rights Watch published a report titled “Welcome to Hell.” The report explained how Russian forces arrested thousands of Chechens. Many of those arrested were then beat, tortured and or raped. Most of those arrested were only released after their families paid out large bribes to Russian officials. Then in 2006, Russia’s human rights group published a documentary that showed evidence of a hidden torture center in the basement of a school in the Chechen capital of Grozny. The documentary alleged that Russian special police OMON used it to torture and kill hundreds of people. Then their bodies were disposed of throughout Chechnya.