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The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia-Ukraine war: what does filtration mean?

01.03.2024    available: Українською | На русском
Evhen Zakharov
Filtration is a violent, unregulated screening of the personal data of detained people, their social contacts, views and attitudes towards the occupying state, their safety for the authorities or services of the occupying state, as well as their willingness and consent to cooperate with the authorities or services of the occupying state.

Russian military officers screen a man at one of the checkpoints. Photo: OSINTtechnical twitter account

Russia launched a full-scale war to destroy the Ukrainian state and all Ukrainians who defend and support it. To achieve this, a scorched earth strategy was chosen: every city that resisted Russian attacks, with its civilian population and civilian objects, from the second day of invasion became a target of artillery shelling and airstrikes. This resulted in the death and injury of tens of thousands of civilians, the destruction of tens of thousands of buildings, and millions of refugees and internally displaced persons.

The actions of the Russian military administration in the occupied territories were aimed at destroying conscious Ukrainians, intimidating all others, and forcing people to relocate to Russia to leave in place only residents loyal to Russia. This strategy is entirely consistent with the classification of the Ukrainian population into four groups, which was devised, as reported by the researchers, by Russian counterintelligence services:

  • those subject to physical liquidation/extermination;
  • those who should be suppressed and intimidated;
  • those who can be induced to cooperate;
  • people, willing to cooperate.

Many crimes committed in this war are unknown to the public, even those who try to follow events closely. In this article, we will examine one such crime: filtration. It can be defined in the following way: it is a violent, unregulated screening of the personal data of detained people, their social contacts, views and attitudes towards the occupying state, their safety for the authorities or services of the occupying state, as well as their willingness and consent to cooperate with the authorities or services of the occupying state. Its purpose is to identify people with pro-Ukrainian views disloyal to the occupation regime, in particular those who consider themselves Ukrainians, refuse to obtain a Russian passport, and want to retain their Ukrainian citizenship in order to isolate or even destroy them.

The filtration procedures began in the first half of March 2022 when the forced resettlement of Mariupol residents to Russia started. Thus, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official printed media of the Russian government, reported that 5,000 Ukrainians were detained in the Bezymyannoye camp and that they were being screened to prevent “Ukrainian nationalists disguised as refugees to avoid punishment” from entering Russia.[1] People leaving for Zaporizhzhia were also subjected to the same procedures.

The first stage of filtration

The filtration takes place in two stages. In the first stage, all refugees must pass document checks, fingerprinting, and initial questioning at so-called filtration points. This stage can last from several hours to several days, depending on the queue length at the filtration point. Much attention is paid to men, particularly those of draft age, who are questioned particularly thoroughly, sometimes with violence. The inspectors try to find out whether a person was earlier involved in the armed forces, law enforcement agencies, border guards, and other bodies of Ukrainian state power and local self-government and to ascertain their attitude to Ukraine and the war. Women are asked where their husbands are and whether they serve in the Ukrainian army. Everyone’s cell phone is examined for contacts with service members, pro-Ukrainian inscriptions, or ring melodies. Everyone has to undress, except for children and women over 45: inspectors look for tattoos indicating pro-Ukrainian orientation. They also look for specific chafes on the skin from wearing small arms and body armor, chafes on the index finger of the right hand, and bruises on the right shoulder from recoil during shooting. When people are suspected of disloyalty to Russia, they are detained and further held in custody, separating families, even mothers or fathers with children. There was a case when a father was separated from his three children who had been taken to Russia. Immediately after his release, he received a call from his eldest son that if he did not pick them up within three days, they would be adopted. The father immediately went to Russia and managed to pick up his children.

Filtration points were set up in large numbers wherever there were streams of refugees leaving the occupied territory. Filtration was also carried out at checkpoints.

People passing the first stage of filtration receive a small-sized certificate with the surname, first name and patronymic, date of birth, a stamp with the inscription “Dactyloscoped,” the name of the filtration point, the date and the signature of the person who performed the filtration. The surname of this person is not indicated. This “certificate” is a pass in all occupied territories. Having it, you can also enter the territory of the Russian Federation, and it must be presented at every check along with your passport. But even this certificate may not save you from the repeated procedure of checking your phone, luggage, body, etc.

Filtration certificate issued by Mangush filtration point. Photo source: Anatoliy Levchenko’s Facebook page

The first stage could have gone differently. 36-year-old Yelena and her 9-year-old daughter, who were hiding from shelling in the basement of a local kindergarten in Mariupol, were kicked out of their hiding place by the occupants and tricked into leaving for Russia.

On March 25, 2022, people in military uniforms with white armbands came to the basement and made a list of the people there. They said it was necessary in order to provide humanitarian aid. When the list was compiled, other military men, this time Chechens, came to the cellar. They demanded that the people gather immediately and they would be taken to a safe place because now a cleanup of the city from the AFU military would start. They would be able to return in two days, so they don’t even need to take their belongings with them. The military lined up a corridor of soldiers every 50 meters apart along the sea line towards Vinogradnoye (a village on the eastern exit from Mariupol).

People were brought to Bezymyannoye (a village on the shore of the Sea of Azov, 30 kilometers east of Mariupol) and settled in a school. On the first floor, there were beds on which older people who could not walk well laid. The rest were on the second and third floors. There was a lack of beds. The school was overcrowded, but new people were continuously being brought in. The DNR police and the school administration were present — they were sent there to work.

Together with Yelena, 540 people were brought there. Six days later, ten buses arrived and took away people with children. But they didn’t say where they were taking them. On the way, people learned that they were being transferred to Russia. The bus reached the Kuibyshevo checkpoint (the RF Rostov oblast), where people passed a filtration. First, they were interrogated at the DNR police checkpoint located in a container standing in the field. Collected information was entered into some databases, documents were scanned, and cell phones were checked.

Then, there was a DNR border checkpoint, where the military interrogated people and screened their belongings. This is a former Ukrainian customs checkpoint. People were interrogated one by one. At first, Yelena was interrogated by one person, and then she was sent to the waiting room. The cell phone was not returned to her. Her mother and child were left in another hall. Then, she was summoned for questioning again. She was asked where she worked, who her friends were, and what she had done after the beginning of hostilities. She was also asked about her attitude to the “Russian military operation.” The interrogation lasted about an hour and a half. Yelena was fingerprinted and had her face and profile photos taken. Ultimately, she found herself in Kazan with her mother and daughter.

A vivid description of life in Mariupol under continuous bombardment, then departure and passing through filtration, was given by 17-year-old Maria Vdovichenko in her interview. Among other things, she recounts overhearing a conversation between two DNR military men: “What did you do with those you didn’t like?” — “I shot them and didn’t think twice!”.

The second stage of filtration

People detained at the first stage are sent under escort for further in-depth filtration during 30 days to filtration camps, deprivation of liberty places. Particularly stubborn Ukrainians were sometimes given a second term. Filtration camps are either former penitentiary institutions that have now been reopened or unofficial places of detention, where conditions are deplorable: overcrowding, inadequate food, often no access to water, lighting, toilets, fresh air, and no access to medical care.

There was a media report that Russian invaders were holding more than three thousand civilian residents of Mariupol in a “filtration prison” — the former penal colony No. 52 in the village of Olenivka in the Donetsk region. Another publication wrote, “This is where former law enforcers, pro-Ukrainian activists, and journalists are held. Now, it has become known about the second filtration prison in Olenivka based on the former Volnovakha penal colony No. 120”. Prisoners of war from the Azov regiment were also held in colony No. 120. On the night of July 28-29, 2022, there was an explosion here, which took the lives of 50 prisoners of war.

Below is the story of a former investigator Oleg, who worked in the Donetsk Regional Police Department.

On March 21, 2022, he tried to leave Mariupol in the direction of Zaporizhzhya. He was detained at the roadblock in Melekino village. According to him, former police employees were standing at the roadblock and pointing fingers at police officers they knew. There were also lists of Ukrainian civil servants at the checkpoints. Then, he was brought to Mangush to the district police department, where he spent 24 hours. There were more than 35 people in the premises where he was kept. He shared his cell with police officers, border guards, and rescuers from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. A young woman from the penitentiary service was also detained. Then, he was sent under escort to Dokuchayevsk. The filtration point is located in the Palace of Culture in the center of Dokuchayevsk. Civilians have to visit it to obtain passes, while detainees are kept in the backyard of this building. Here, the detainees are sorted into several groups: military, police, other civil servants, and undocumented persons. They are held there for one day. Then, they are blindfolded and taken to Donetsk. On the premises of the former Department for Combating Organized Crime (5 Yungovskaya Street), they are placed in cells with 35-37 people in each. They are fingerprinted, photos of tattoos are taken, and their data is entered into the “Rubezh” and “Scorpion” databases. Here, they receive a suspect status. They are interrogated, especially about their interaction with Azov and Tornado military units, and their involvement in the investigation of offenses committed by persons who fought on the side of the DNR. Interrogators asked about the police archive location and the composition of the units and tried to induce cooperation.

After the interrogation, people are sent for medical examination while they wait for the convoy to prison. The examination was conducted in a friendly manner in the hospital where Oleg was checked. In another hospital (according to other people’s words), the doctor offered to shoot them without a medical examination.

After the medical examination Oleg was sent to Donetsk pre-trial detention center. There, the protocol of administrative detention for 30 calendar days was drawn up on him based on a DNR internal normative act (Oleg can’t remember which one) on cooperation with terrorist organizations. After that, the detainees were brought to penal colony No. 120 near Volnovakha. They were kept by 35-40 people in the cells with dysfunctional toilets; water and food were not provided for several days. Then, the majority of the police officers were transferred to barrack huts. While staying in the barrack huts, they can go to the toilet in the street, and acquaintances can bring them food. They also repair these barrack huts themselves.

Oleg did not say anything about the interrogations in the colony. On May 8, he was released.

In filtration prisons, FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) officers participate in interrogations with the use of violence and various kinds of torture, having the same goal: to break a person and to extort a confession of loyalty to the Russian Federation. People passing this second stage of filtration were released after 30 days, received a certificate of filtration, and could go to Russia. Those who did not pass the second stage of filtration, who were not broken, received the status of prisoners of war according to the decree of the so-called State Defense Committee of the DNR #31 of April 26, 2022. They were sentenced to a 10-year prison term and sent to penal institutions in the Donetsk region. This wholly illegal and wild, even for Russians, decree was canceled after the “referendum” on the accession of the DNR to the Russian Federation at the end of September 2022, and some of the prisoners were released. It is unknown precisely how many of them were released and where the rest are. There is a version that they were transferred to Russian places of detention, where they were sentenced by Russian courts “for opposing a special military operation” (as they call this war in Russia); at least one such case is known.

We cannot specify the number of people put into filtration camps and those released from them; we do not have such data. Apparently, it is tens of thousands of people.

[1] Cited from The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/04/hundreds-of-ukrainians-forcibly-deported-to-russia-say-mariupol-women

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