Hundreds of ukrainian civilians they were being evacuees from a town on the outskirts of Mariupol when their buses were stopped by the russian troops. ‘The route has changed’, they were told, ‘now we will go to Donetsk and from there we will take you to Russia‘. The passengers began to protest loudly, but their fate was written. For others of his compatriots it was something different. The soldiers gave them a choice, though only apparently. ‘You can stay in the basement without water, food or electricity until they find you dead or be transferred to Russian territory‘. A false choice reinforced by the orchestrated misinformation what runs through some areas of the front: the forces of the kremlin control several cities in the east of Ukraine and, in those that remain under government control, there is no room left for the displaced.
Oleksandra Matviichuk tells these stories in a video call with EL PERIÓDICO from kyiv, where the Center For Civil Liberties, the organization of human rights who drives. Matviichuk has spoken personally with some of the thousands of Ukrainians who have been “forcibly transferred” to Russia in recent weeks, as well as with their relatives. Mainly from Mariupol and its surroundings, but also from other eastern regions such as Kharkiv and Sumi. “Instead of allowing them to be evacuated through humanitarian corridors, they are being illegally displaced to Russia,” says this lawyer. The Ukrainian deputy prime minister has encrypted in 40,000 people who have been sent across the border without any coordination with the Kyiv authorities. A figure that is impossible to verify, like so many other things in this war.
The forced population transfers not only constitute a serious violation of international lawbut they are reviving the Ukrainians some of the worst ghosts of his past. “What the occupants are doing today is familiar to the older generation, who lived through the horrible events of world war 2when the Nazis captured people by force”, said the mayor of Mariupol, Vadim Boychenko, the besieged city reduced to rubble where Ukrainian troops continue to resist ten days ago. “It is hard to imagine that in the 21st century people are being forcibly taken to another country.”
In those times the hosts of Hitler deported more than two million Ukrainians to Nazi Germany for use as slave labor. As well Stalin did something similar with Crimean Tatars in an operation of ethnic cleansing declared as genocide by the European Parliament. More recently it has been done in Burma with the Rohingya population.
Moscow denies the accusations.
Russia denies it is forcibly transferring anyone. she talks about “evacuations” towards its territorywhich has encrypted in 380,000 people, mainly from the self-proclaimed independent republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, where Mariupol is located. Its official media also maintain that hundreds of Ukrainians have been sent to “transition centers” in the region of Rostov and several hundred more to those of Yaroslav and Ryazan by rail, located more than 1,000 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.
But the reading from kyiv is very different. “International humanitarian law says that we must open corridors for civilians can safely leave the fighting area,” says Matviichuk. “The problem is that Russia has so far only agreed to one with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The rest have been Ukrainian decision, at your own risk. Hence, thousands of people remain trapped in shattered cities like Mariupol and these alleged evacuations are illegal.”
Relatives of those transferred say that many of them did not have their documentation with them or that it was confiscated by Russian troops, according to Matviichuk. and they would be being temporarily housed in camps or hotels. The Ukrainian authorities go further and claim that the captured civilians are being sent to “filter camps” like the ones that Russia raised in Chechnyawhere thousands of Chechens went brutally interrogated and others disappeared.
“After passing through the filtration camps, the Ukrainians are sent to economically depressed areas of the Russian Federation,” the Defense Ministry said on its Facebook page. “As a final destination, they are taken to northern regions, in particular to sakhalin. There they are ‘offered’ employment and those who accept receive documents that prohibit them from leaving Russia for two years”. Sakhalin Island is 7,000 kilometers from Mariupol as the crow flies, near the northern coast of Japan.
Talita de Souza Dias has a doctorate in International Law from the University of Oxford. In an email she assures that “the forced transfer of Ukrainians to Russia could be considered a deportation”, classified as “war crime” when civilians are transferred to another country through expulsion or other coercive acts or as a “crime against humanity”, when it occurs in a context of systematic attacks against the civilian population. “And both cases currently occur in Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” says De Souza Dias.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.