In what is shaping up to be the largest mass kidnapping in recent history, the Russian media has reported that their troops and government have “evacuated” a total of 1 million Ukrainians, or exactly 1,021,871 Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including 187,636 children, since the start of the invasion. While Russian media uses the word “evacuation,” there is evidence that the majority of these Ukrainians were “forcibly deported” or, as we would say, “kidnapped” and forced to reside in Russia for reasons currently unknown.

In a report dated April 29th, the Russian news agency TASS reported that a total of 1,021,871 people crossed the Russian border, according to the Head of Russia’s National Defense Management Center, Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev. According to the report, 19,442 people were “evacuated” from dangerous areas in Ukraine and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine just within the past day.

“Despite the obstacles that are being created by Kiev [Kyiv], 19,442 people, including 4,468 children, were evacuated to Russia from dangerous areas in Ukraine, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, in the past day without any assistance from the Ukrainian authorities,” the Colonel said.

If confirmed (and there is large evidence to believe that this is true), it would be another war crime that violates Article 49 of the Geneva Convention. We’ll get to these legalities later on.

Evidence of Ukrainians Sent to ‘Filtration Camps’

Earlier in April, The Guardian, along with several media outlets, reported that there were accounts of Mariupol residents being ‘forcibly deported’ to Russia. These Ukrainian citizens were allegedly sent to “filtration camps” before being relocated to far-flung areas in Russia.

A woman from Mariupol reported to The Guardian that Russian troops forced their way into the bomb shelter they were staying in and ordered all women and children to get out early in March. After they left the bunker, they were forced to board a bus to the border town of Novoazovsk along with 200 or 300 people.

“Once we came to a stop, we had to wait for hours inside the bus until ordered to go through a large tent complex, to what everyone called ‘filtration camps,’” she said.

While at the camp, she was reportedly questioned, photographed, and fingerprinted by Russia’s FSB (the Russian security service). They took her phone, looked through its contents, and asked whether they had connections with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

“They also asked me what I thought about Ukraine, about Putin, and about the conflict. It was very degrading.”

Russian media, specifically Rossiyskaya Gazeta, confirmed the presence of these camps by reporting that 5,000 Ukrainians were “processed” at the camp located in Bezimenne, which was near Novoazovsk. A satellite image of the camp from Maxar Technologies also confirms the presence of 30 tents that could reportedly hold 450 individuals.

A satellite image of the tents of "filtration camps" in Bezimenne, Mariupol (Maxar via The Guardian). Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/04/hundreds-of-ukrainians-forcibly-deported-to-russia-say-mariupol-women
A satellite image of the tents of “filtration camps” in Bezimenne, Mariupol (Maxar via The Guardian)

According to the Russian media, the camps were necessary to prevent Ukrainian nationalists from infiltrating Russia. After these people were “processed,” they were reportedly sent to Rostov, then Vladimir.

Another report from Mariupol confirms the “forced deportations.” A CNN investigative report revealed that people from Mariupol were given two options: Go to Russia or die. A man under the pseudonym “Andrey” reported that he was sent to a filtration camp in Dokuchaevsk in Donetsk, transported to Novoazovsk, then was forced to get on a bus to the Russian city of Taganrog. From there, they were forced to take a train from Taganrog to Voronezh.

According to him, they did not have a choice. They were taken from their homes with no money or documents.

“Some people in Ukraine may think that those who left for Russia are traitors, but this is an exception to the rule. Most people understand that we were going where we can get out. But some do not understand that we had no choice — we had only one road, this was to Novoazovsk.”

Bucha civilians allegedly killed by Russian troops (Ukrinform TV, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%9C%D1%96%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE_%D0%91%D1%83%D1%87%D0%B0_%D0%BF%D1%96%D1%81%D0%BB%D1%8F_%D0%B7%D0%B2%D1%96%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BD%D1%8F_%D0%B2%D1%96%D0%B4_%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%96%D0%B9%D1%81%D1%8C%D0%BA%D0%B8%D1%85_%D0%BE%D0%BA%D1%83%D0%BF%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%82%D1%96%D0%B2_01.jpg
Bucha civilians were allegedly killed by Russian troops (Ukrinform TVCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ukrainians Beaten By Troops While Being Kidnapped

The worst was yet to come for these Ukrainians. Evidence has shown that these kidnapped Ukrainians were beaten by Russian troops. A Ukrainian man named Volodymyr Khropun, a Red Cross volunteer, was detained by Russian troops while trying to evacuate civilians.

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He was detained in a basement along with 40 others. They were blindfolded, with their hands tied to their backs with duct tape. They were then beaten with rifles, punched, kicked, and even tased at one point. They were then asked about information regarding the Ukrainian Armed Forces. According to him, Ukrainian women were also beaten.

After this beating, they were transported to Belarus, where they were issued an “identity document.” In this document, his birthplace was listed as the “Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic,” the name of Ukraine before the Soviet Union broke down in 1991.

“The torture continued. They humiliated us, made us kneel, and forced us into uncomfortable positions. If we looked into their eyes, we were beaten. If we did something slowly, we were beaten. They treated us like animals,” the man said.

70-year-old Ukrainian Nadiya Trubchanikova left the Kyiv region ahead of the Russian military. She recently returned. These photos, the Ukrainian government says, shows what happened when she found her son's body in Bucha after searching for him for over a week (Tim Mak). Source: https://twitter.com/timkmak/status/1517135690282135553
70-year-old Ukrainian Nadiya Trubchanikova left the Kyiv region ahead of the Russian military. She recently returned. These photos, the Ukrainian government says, show what happened when she found her son’s body in Bucha after searching for him for over a week (Tim Mak/Twitter)

Multiple other reports also state similar situations. Ukrainians were told that Russia had seized the majority of Ukraine and that they no longer controlled their lives. They were told that they were going to Russia (while some had no idea where they were going) and that if they refused, they would get shot.

Note that the Russian tactics outlined by kidnapped survivors are eerily similar to those used by the Russians in Bucha, where the Russian troops had engaged in mass executions for unknown reasons. In previous reports, dead civilians in Ukraine in Bucha were seen to be blindfolded, with their hands tied to their backs, and showed signs of torture before they were killed. Some civilians were burned, possibly to hide evidence of the killings.

Hypothesis: Ukrainians Sent to Russia for Forced Labor?

Circumstantial evidence also exists that Russia plans to use Ukrainians to work in Siberia to build cities. Russian Defense Minister Shoigu was quoted in an article entitled “New Cities of Siberia” that Russia planned for their “former Soviet republics” to build new cities in Siberia.

Shoigu was asked the question: “Who will build new cities and industries? Do you plan to attract a large number of migrants to the regions of Siberia?

“After all, we are talking about a long-term program for the development of the Siberian region, for decades, which should not only put an end to the outflow but, most importantly, create attractive conditions for the influx of the population to Siberia.

The creation of economic research and production centers will require investment not only in the economy but, above all, in the creation of attractive living and working conditions for people there. Taking into account the existing transport infrastructure and its build-up, today’s Siberian cities will also be integrated into scientific and industrial centers, which will receive additional investments for their development.

There should probably be some inflow of labor resources for the implementation of construction projects from our former Soviet republics.”

 Vladimir Putin and Sergei Shoigu at Navy Parade. Saint Petersburg, 30 July 2017 (Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vladimir_Putin_and_Sergey_Shoigu_-_Saint-Petersburg_2017-07-30_(1).jpg
Vladimir Putin and Sergei Shoigu at Navy Parade. Saint Petersburg, 30 July 2017 (Kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

That being said, many would argue that Shoigu must be referring to legal workers that may come from former Soviet republics. However, in another portion of the interview, Shoigu is quoted saying:

“Remember the prophetic thought of Mikhail Lomonosov: ‘Russian power will grow in Siberia and the Northern Ocean. And it will reach the main European settlements in Asia and America.‘ I am convinced that it is no coincidence that Lomonosov wrote Siberia and the Arctic Ocean through the conjunction ‘and.’ They should be developed together, not separately. Therefore, the focus on the development of the Siberian region today is timely and justified.”

No direct evidence exists linking deported Ukrainians to be working in Siberia or being forced to work. However, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry had reported last March 24 that Ukrainians were indeed getting kidnapped and forced to go to “economically depressed” areas of Russia. According to them, the Ukrainians were offered “official employment” in Sakhalin, where they could not leave the area for two years.

Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun, in an interview with the Times Radio, stated that these Ukrainians were being sent to “‘filtration camps’ and then they are being relocated to very distant parts of Russia, where they are being forced to sign papers (saying) that they will stay in that area for two or three years and they will work for free in those areas.”

There are no independent reports that can confirm the forced labor accusations. However, the forced deportations can be confirmed by numerous other independent news outlets.

What the Geneva Convention Says About Forced Deportations

It is important to note that forced deportations are completely illegal according to the Geneva Convention:

“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”

The Russians can possibly defend themselves by saying that they had no choice but to do so as the Geneva Convention also states:

“The Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand,”

But, it clearly also says that evacuations may not involve the displacement of protected persons “outside the bounds of the occupied territory.”

More so, the Geneva Convention also states that:

“Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.”

Finally, even if the Russians had done this to “protect” the Ukrainians, they still would have violated the convention anyway as they tortured and beat the people, coerced them to stay in Russia, and deprived them of proper hygiene, safety, nutrition. Additionally, they have also violated the provision that says they cannot separate members of the same family.