Russia’s war in Ukraine has seemed to have entered an even more problematic stage: Russian forces have abducted thousands of Ukrainians from their homes and sent them to so-called “filtration camps,” a top US official said on Thursday.
“At least several thousand” Ukrainians have been abducted and processed in the camps, said Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in remarks to the agency’s permanent council in Vienna.
The “filtration camps” are being used by Russian troops to interrogate Ukrainian civilians for any government or military ties, Carpenter said, adding that some detainees reportedly had their phones confiscated and searched for any signs of opposition to President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing war.
“Russia’s soldiers are forcibly relocating civilians, whose homes, cities, and towns have been mercilessly barraged for months with shells, missiles, and bombs, to Russia — the very country causing all the needless suffering,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter also said “tens of thousands” of Ukrainians have been abducted and sent to Russia or Russian-controlled territory — claims Ukrainian officials have made for weeks now.
Since the outset of Russia’s invasion, the Kremlin has touted its “humanitarian corridors” in Ukraine as evidence it does not wish to wage war on Ukraine’s civilian population.
But experts familiar with its use of such corridors in Syria — and those observing their implementation today in Ukraine — told Insider that Moscow is only using them as a deceitful accessory with the aim of gaining ground and sympathy in its war against Ukraine.
According to the UN, more than 6 million Ukrainians have fled the country since the outset of the war, and at least 3,500 civilians have been killed.
In the first weeks of the war, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Ukrainian officials alleged that Russia was targeting civilians leaving through the corridors, or only allowing refugees to flee to Russia or its ally Belarus.
The abuse of the corridors has led to largely stalled negotiations on opening new channels for safe passage.
On Monday, the Ukrainian government said that hundreds of men, women, and children had been evacuated from a steel plant in the besieged port city of Mariupol following a three-day ceasefire, through corridors facilitated by the UN.
Jake Epstein is a Junior Breaking News Reporter on the Speed Desk, based in Boston.
Azmi Haroun is Insider’s Courts Reporter based in Los Angeles, California.