UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United States said Wednesday it has evidence that “hundreds of thousands” of Ukrainian citizens were interrogated, detained and forcibly deported to Russia in “a series of horrors” overseen by officials of the Russian presidency.
Russia immediately dismissed the allegation as “fantastic”, calling it the latest invention of a Western disinformation campaign.
The accusation was made during a Security Council meeting convened by the United States and Albania to discuss Russia’s “screening operations”.
It involves Ukrainians voluntarily fleeing war in their home country and those forcibly moved to Russia passing through a series of ‘screening points’ where processing ranges from interrogations, data collection and searches naked to be discarded, tortured, sent to a detention center in Russia and never seen again.
WE. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said estimates from various sources, including the Russian government, indicate that Russian authorities interrogated, detained and forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians. She said they are sent to Russia, often to isolated areas of its Far Eastern regions.
“These operations are aimed at identifying individuals whom Russia deems insufficiently compliant or compatible with its control,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And there is mounting credible evidence that people seen as threatening Russian control because of perceived pro-Ukrainian leanings are ‘disappearing’ or being re-detained.”
The Russian Presidency not only coordinates screening operations, but also provides lists of Ukrainians to be targeted for screening, she added.
She said estimates indicate thousands of children were screened, “some separated from their families and removed from orphanages before being put up for adoption in Russia.” According to US reports, “more than 1,800 children were transferred from Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine to Russia” in July alone, she said.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the West of trying to smear his country.
He said more than 3.7 million Ukrainians, including 600,000 children, have traveled to Russia or Russian-controlled separatist areas in eastern Ukraine, but they “are not detained in prisons”.
“They live freely and voluntarily in Russia, and no one prevents them from moving or leaving the country,” he said.
Nebenzia said these Ukrainians followed “a registration rather than screening procedure” similar to that of Ukrainian refugees in Poland and other European Union countries.
He said that since “we wasted time talking about the latest conjectures and fantasies” on Wednesday, Russia proposes that the Security Council hold a meeting on Thursday “on the real threats to international peace and security caused by the supply by foreign states of weapons and military goods to Ukraine.
French Ambassador Nicolas De Rivière, the current chairman of the council, has scheduled the meeting for Thursday afternoon.
This will be the third consecutive meeting of the Security Council on Ukraine. On Tuesday, the council held a meeting at Russia’s request to inquire about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of bombing the facility and threatening a possible nuclear disaster.
Thomas-Greenfield said the United States knew Russia would deny using the filtration, “but there is an easy way to find out if this is all true.”
“Let the United Nations in,” she told Nebenzia and the other council members. “Give access to independent observers. Give access to NGOs. Allow humanitarian access. Let the world see what’s going on.
UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo has called for investigations into the “extremely disturbing” and continuing allegations “of forced displacement, deportation and so-called ‘filtration camps’ run by the Russian Federation and affiliated local forces”.
She called on the UN to gain access to Ukrainians living in areas controlled by Russia and reiterated that the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine “must have a unhindered access to all persons detained in connection with the ongoing war”.
“This includes access to places of internment of Ukrainian prisoners of war and detainees in the Russian Federation,” she said. “Both parties to the conflict must fully respect their obligations under international law.”
Ilze Brands Kehris, UN Under-Secretary-General for Human Rights, has urged Russia to allow its Geneva-based office access to all places of detention. She added that any adoption of Ukrainian children in Russia would violate the Geneva Convention prohibiting the change of a child’s personal status, including nationality.
Kehris said the UN human rights office “verified” that the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups are subjecting civilians to “screening” security checks, which according to credible information received , result in numerous violations of human rights, including the rights to liberty, personal security and privacy.
The human rights office has documented that Russian troops and their affiliates subject Ukrainians to body searches that sometimes include nudity, interrogations about their personal background, family ties, political opinions and allegiances, and examinations of mobile devices, Kehris said.
The office also documented that men and women perceived to have ties to the Ukrainian military or government, or to hold pro-Ukrainian or anti-Russian views “were subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearances” and were transferred to penal colonies, Kehris said.