War in Ukraine: a report denounces the establishment of “filtration centers” in the occupied Donbass

At least 18 such centers have been identified in Russian-controlled Donbass territories. According to the testimonies of civilians, acts constituting war crimes were committed there.

Illustrative photo. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP

Several “filtration centers” have been established by the Russians in the occupied areas of Donbass, according to a report by the Media initiative for Human Rights presented Wednesday, July 28 to the OSCE. The organization collected testimonies from civilians describing acts constituting war crimes: strip searches, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture or mock execution. At least 18 filtration centers have been uncovered in Russian-controlled areas of the two Donbass regions, Donetsk and Luhansk.

The report states that this filtration process has been implemented in all territories occupied by Russian forces. “These facts are committed by Russians, probably linked to the FSB. They are looking for patriotic tattoos, traces of weapon use on men’s bodies. They search phones for compromising photos or messages. In some cases, they practice violent interrogations to test the loyalty of the person to the occupied authorities”, explains Olga Reshetylova, coordinator of the Media initiative for Human rights.
Degrading treatment

These checks, which target all people in occupied territory, are first implemented at checkpoints. Suspects are then detained for further checks. “At the Starobilsk police station they threatened me and told me that they were going to throw me in jail. They brutalized me, hitting me in the face, back and all over my body, says Yurii Berezovskyi, a man from Luhansk Oblast. They were trying to reveal my supposed membership in the Ukrainian army.”

Some civilians went through this process for days or even weeks. During these inspections, they were subjected to physical and psychological pressure. Cases of executions have been recorded, says the report. Victoria, a woman from Mariupol, was detained with her husband in Bezimenne, Donetsk Oblast. “At half past midnight, a soldier came into the room, called my husband by his last name and ordered him out. It was the last time I saw him. His mother tried to find out where they had taken him. They said no one would tell us and that he had to be shot.” Another woman, Mariya Vdovychenko, recounts a conversation held between two Donbass separatist soldiers in the village of Manhush, where she was interrogated: “What did you do to those who passed the filtration?” ; “I killed 10 then I stopped counting, it was boring.” She remembers her knees starting to shake when in the room where she was being held, a soldier lying on a mattress said about her: “You don’t love her? There will be other women, we will find something. She was pushed outside, but then they hit her father, according to her testimony. “As a result, he lost sight of one eye, and the other sees like through a plastic bag,” she said.

We were 40 in a cell, 30 of us slept while the others remained standing.
Oleksii, detained in a prison in Olenivka

For some, the screening process has led them to detention centers where cases of degrading treatment, torture and even murder have been reported. “I saw what they did to the Ukrainian military; they tortured them with electric shocks. There was no question of any Geneva Convention”, reports Oleksii, about acts committed in a detention center in the Donetsk region. He was transferred to a prison in Olenivka: “The living conditions were terrible there. There were 40 of us in a cell, 30 of us slept while the others remained standing.” The detainees were rationed with water, did not have sanitary facilities and were “constantly beaten”, according to Oleksii’s testimony.

In Nikolske, Zaporizhia Oblast, where residents of Mariupol underwent this filtration process, there is a testimony of a case of torture. “They showed me Serhii twice, says Iryna Dubchenko. The first time before the interrogation, his hands were tied and he was beaten. Then, after the interrogation, he was already without the handcuffs, sitting on a chair. I understood that he could no longer stand up.

“We demand that these illegal practices cease,” said Olga Reshetylova, the day after the report was presented in Geneva to a delegation of 30 OSCE states. The international community must put pressure on Russia to allow the presence of independent international organizations such as the Red Cross in these filtration centers.”

The list of “filtration centers” is not exhaustive, specifies the NGO. According to the General Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, civilians from the occupied town of Rubizhne in Luhansk were taken to filtration centers in Starobilsk, Luhansk, and Sorokyne, while people from Popasnaya were taken to Pervomaisk and Kadiivka. Other information mentions a filtration center established in the village of Velyka Lepetykha, in Kherson oblast. In addition, cases have also been reported on Russian territory.