Inside Russia’s ‘Kafka-esque’ Mass Kidnapping Scheme

Almost six months after Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine, with up to 1.6 million Ukrainians were forcibly brought to Russia So far, Ukrainian authorities have argued that Russian forces are now using civilians as cannon fodder on the front lines and faking artillery attacks to trick them into crossing the border.

Just this week, Ukrainian authorities in Kozacha Lopan, a Russian-occupied village in the Kharkiv region, speak residents were herded and forced to “evacuate” to the Russian region of Belgorod after being tricked into buses by soldiers who told them they had to leave to escape “heavy shelling” in the area. Authorities said there was no such shelling.

In the occupied Luhansk region, the government Speak 80 civilians in the city of Starobilsk were forced to the front lines just this week, killed as Russian forces brutally took control of the area.

It’s all part of a “Kafka-esque system” that Russia has set up to systematically wipe out Ukraine’s population by forcibly forcing hundreds of thousands of citizens, according to a new report that deeply details the network. Russia’s network of “filter” camps for refugees.

The Information Recovery Center, a nonprofit that uses open-source intelligence to track Russian activities in Ukraine, has created a new profile — shared with The Daily Beast — on its network. camps and temporary accommodation centers that Moscow is using to literally kidnap hundreds of thousands of people. of the Ukrainians in plain sight.

“Ukrainian refugees are presented with the illusion of choice from the moment of arrest until they settle involuntarily on Russian territory. They are trapped in a Kafka-esque system that works against them. Their forced displacement was only the beginning of the war’s lasting impact on the Ukrainian people. Tracked by the invading forces from the moment of their arrest until they are brought into Russian territory, there is no safe way out of a process where the wrong answer could cost them in lives,” the report said.

Screenshot of the video shows heavily armed Russian personnel waiting and escorting refugees to the bus camp at the Bezimenne refinery camp, Donetsk.

Luis G. Rendon / The Daily Beast / Getty / Information Recovery Center

During the five months of the war, Russian forces regularly fired on evacuation buses carrying people to safety in Ukrainian-controlled territory, blocking roads to prevent such evacuations, and in other cases, arresting Ukrainians on the run to use them in propaganda videos for Russian media, the report notes. In one case, a Ukrainian history teacher working as the driver of an evacuation bus, Mikhail Pankov, was arrested by Russian forces before appearing, blindfolded, in a segment on Russian television claimed that he was detained on Russian territory while allegedly acting as a stand-in for the Ukrainian military.

“I am begging you, give it back to my father. We are doing badly without him, we miss him. Please give me back my father,” Pankov’s 12-year-old daughter pleaded in a painful video on social media after her arrest in May.

Evacuation buses covered with bullet holes, civilians waiting to be evacuated near Mariupol, and video screenshots detailing the living conditions of civilians detained in Bezimenne.

Luis G. Rendon / The Daily Beast / Getty / Information Recovery Center

The 30-page report by the Information Recovery Center also pinpointed the locations of 11 “filter” camps in the occupied Donetsk region. While Russia claims the camps are simply “checkpoints” for refugees hoping to arrive safely, incoming refugees are often surrounded by Russian armed forces and greeted by soldiers. agent of the Security Service of the Russian Federation.

Worryingly, secret footage filmed in one of the camps in Donetsk, which the Center for Rehabilitation of Information geolocated for a school in the village of Bezimenne, on the outskirts of Mariupol, shows hundreds of Ukrainian men being detained. kept despite going through the Russian “filter” process.

A man detained in the same building, who filmed the footage and shared it on Telegram, said the Russians overseeing the detainees had been told they had yet to decide to use the men. this to fight for the Russian army or “labor to destroy,” the report said.

“While in Russian custody, many refugees reported that they had undergone rigorous interrogation, often with verbal abuse, threats or actual physical assault. According to reports, some were simply never seen again. “

In many other cases, people undergoing Russia’s “filtering” process have been described as being arrested for bribery, or having their phones confiscated by Russian interrogators just to retrieve newly installed programs aimed at track their activities.

Journalist Stanislav Miroshnichenko described the process to Current time TV in mid-June. “One person I was talking to was watching a show on his phone. It was a certain file that was uploaded to his phone via Bluetooth. In my opinion, it’s called ‘Eavesdropping by the Ministry of the Interior.’ I asked him if he tried to remove the program from his phone. He replied that after leaving, he turned off the machine and did not use it. He doesn’t know how to delete it,” he said.

The reported passers-by will then be transported deep into Russia, where they report additional interrogations before being met at temporary accommodation centers by Russian state media urging them to hail them. Moscow’s alleged humanitarian efforts towards refugees.

Locations of known filter camps in Donetsk, image of the pick-up point for civilians fleeing the war zone just outside Mariupol, and screenshots from drone footage of the filtering camp in Bezimenne from May 2022 (left) and satellite images of the area from 2019 (right).

Luis G. Rendon / The Daily Beast / Getty / Information Recovery Center

The Russian regions of Voronezh, Rostov and Krasnodar are believed to be home to most of the deported Ukrainians, who were often promised job opportunities, payments and housing they were never promised. acquired — or “free land” turns out to be deep in the wilderness and thick with trees and swamps.

Trapped in a system that forces them to head towards Russia while offering the illusion of choice, most will not have the money, connectivity or even mobility to find a way, the report notes. escape”.

Many refugees also find that their new accommodation in Russia comes with heavy tethers. While Russian authorities hand out 10,000 rubles (about $175) to newly arrived Ukrainian families, if they want to stay, they have to split more than half of it.

“They complain that they get a one-time payment of 10,000 and pay 6,000 for [mandatory] A Russian woman who works with refugees told The Daily Beast.

“Of all [the families I’ve worked with]there is only one Putin supporter,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Perhaps worst of all, thousands of children were caught up in Russia’s scheme of mass abductions – many of them were dubbed “orphans” and were adopted into new Russian families, a revelation. Indeed, both Vladimir Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, have openly talk about.

While Russian state media have reported on the Kremlin’s supposed “humanitarian” efforts to take in Ukrainian children they say have been rescued from orphanages near the war. online, Ukrainian authorities say the so-called “orphans” they have captured, especially in Mariupol, have actually been excluded from their families.

“Among those brought to the Russian Federation were orphans who had recently lost their parents due to war, and children from separated families. We know of cases where children are simply taken away from their parents,” said Pyotr Andryushchenko, an aide to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, speak at the end of June.

“We are sure that this is only part of the ‘de-identification’ process aimed at getting as many Ukrainian children out of the Ukrainian population as possible. We fully understand, after what happened in Mariupol, that if children are to be adopted within two or three years, given their age, it will be very difficult to find their parents. , and they themselves won’t remember them. ,” said Andryushchenko.

Independent newspaper Verstka reported in late June that hundreds of unaccompanied Ukrainian children had been taken to a sports complex in Taganrog, in the Rostov region of Russia. Some of the children were later transferred to the Moscow region, where they were assigned to Russian families.

The Information Rehabilitation Center has geo-located the temporary accommodation center where children are being held in Taganrog, identifying it as the Dvorets Sports Complex. By mid-March, a third of the refugees held at the center were between the ages of 3 and 10, their report said.

The families of thousands of Ukrainian children who went missing in the tumultuous early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion are still searching for their children months later.

Tatyana and Yelena, two grandmothers from Mariupol, are among the most heartbreaking examples. Follow Verstka. The building in which Nastya lived with both her father and mother – Tatyana and Yelena’s daughter and son – burned down after a direct hit, but none of them were found in the ruins.

Five months later, Tatyana told Verstka, she discovered a baby girl she was certain was Nastya described as an “orphan” in footage aired by Russian state media last month showing the children. Ukraine was adopted by a new Russian adoptive family near Moscow.

She recalls her husband searching the house for a sedative to calm her down. After sending Yelena the video, she also agreed that it was the missing niece.

However, after weeks of haggling with Russian authorities to verify the girl’s identity, a long-awaited meeting proved disappointing, Tatyana said. Although the Russian authorities did not agree to bring the girl, they did provide photos and videos of her that were examined by family friends who knew her well.

“That’s not Nastya. They cannot make mistakes. It’s not her nose, not her big blue eyes,” Tatyana is quoted as saying.

She and Elena now continue to search for both their child and niece, who Tatyana recalls always refusing to pick flowers like other children, believing that both the bud and the flower were meant to live together as a family. family.

“She thinks that both the mother will be hurt, and the children – the flowers – will be hurt. If they separate, the shoots will wilt and die.”

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