Russian forces are holding approximately 27,000 Ukrainians in “filtration camps” near the besieged city of Mariupol, according to local authorities.
The filtration camps along the Mangush-Nikolske-Yalta line are aimed at preparing the Ukrainians for deportation to Russia, according to Petro Andriuschenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol.
The report coincides with alerts from the Mariupol City Council and the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine that have warned that Russians are using screening camps in the Donetsk region from Bezimenne to Dokuchaevsk, forcing civilians there en masse and taking away their documents.
The Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, has been working to ferret out the Ukrainians’ allegiances in the filtration camps, such as whether they’ve worked with law enforcement or with the Joint Forces Operations, the directorate said. Some reports show the Russians have been downloading data from the Ukrainians’ phones and taking their fingerprints at the filtration camps before shipping them off to Russia.
U.S. officials warned in advance of Russia’s invasion this year that Russia may round up Ukrainians, send them to camps, and seek to disappear them as a way to eliminate resistance.
And, just as the U.S. intelligence on Russia’s intentions in Ukraine have been spot-on before, it appears their predictions were accurate here, too. Since the war began, more than 45,000 have been deported to Russia, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereschuk, has said.
Russia has long used filtration camps during war, human rights watchdogs say. Russians tortured, beat, and raped Chechen civilians in filtration camps in Chechnya in 2000, following and during the wars in Chechnya, according to Human Rights Watch and witnesses. In those cases, those who escaped said the Russians used filtration camps as a way to try to “disappear” individuals.
The Biden administration has criticized the camps.
“Every day, we see more and more how little Russia respects human rights,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said earlier this month. “I do not need to spell out what these so-called ‘filtration camps’ are reminiscent of. It’s chilling and we cannot look away.”
And now, just as the Russian government denied the accusations about Chechnya and filtration camps, the Kremlin is once again denying allegations about forcing Ukrainians into camps. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has called the reports “lies.”
While Russian forces are allegedly rounding up civilians in Mariupol for the camps, Ukrainians continue to try to beat back Russian forces in Mariupol. Ukraine’s defense ministry said Monday that Ukrainians are still holding certain regions of the city while Russian forces are running their offensive.
But the situation in Mariupol is looking increasingly grim. After weeks of Russian forces obliterating the city from land, air, and sea, the situation is dire for those who remain. Early on in the invasion, Russian forces hit a maternity hospital, sending women and babies running for their lives. In more recent days, Russian forces have gone after a theater, surrounded the city, and blocked humanitarian aid, causing food and essential supplies to dwindle. And this weekend, Russian forces urged Ukrainians to surrender.
If Mariupol were to fall it would be the first major city to fall to the Russians.
Only a small group of soldiers appears to remain, fighting at Azovstal, an iron and steel plant, which the Russians have said they’ve blockaded. The city of Mariupol shared video on its Telegram account Monday that appeared to show Russians bombing Azovstal. Women and children are huddling in bomb shelters, the mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boychenko, said Monday.
But for now, Ukrainians are not backing down.
“Mariupol. Unbreakable and Unconquered,” Andriuschenko, the adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said Monday on Telegram.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal echoed Andriuschenko.
“The city has not yet fallen,” Shmyhal said in an interview with ABC News.
But already, Russian forces are issuing passes to people that remain in besieged Mariupol, which they’ll be required to carry in order to be out on the streets, Andriuschenko said.
“Hundreds of citizens have to stand in line to get a pass, without which next week it will be impossible not only to move between districts of the city, but also to be on the streets,” he said, warning men might be filtered out.
In the coming days, as Russia works to take Mariupol once and for all, Russia may resort to using “riot control agents” such as tear gas mixed with chemical agents, that could weaken Ukrainians, the White House warned in a briefing last week.
While Russian forces have faced numerous setbacks recently—they failed to capture Kyiv and a major warship sank in the past week—Russian forces are already upping the ante with a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, according to Ukraine’s top security official, Oleksiy Danilov.
“This morning, the occupiers tried to break through our defenses along almost the entire front line in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions,” Danilov said Monday.