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Zelensky says Russian action in Donbass is ‘obvious policy of genocide’

People gather in a tent camp at the Matveyev Kurgan border checkpoint after evacuating from Donetsk on February 19. (AP)

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were processed through a series of Russian ‘filtration camps’ in eastern Ukraine and sent to Russia under a systematized program of forced deportation, according to four sources familiar with the matter. the latest Western intelligence – a far higher estimate than US officials have publicly revealed.

After being held in camps run by Russian intelligence officials, many Ukrainians are then forcibly moved to economically depressed areas in Russia, in some cases thousands of miles from their homes, and often with no way to return. , sources said.

Although some Ukrainians voluntarily entered filter camps in an attempt to escape the fighting by entering Russia, many were detained against their will at checkpoints and in bomb shelters. After spending an average of about three weeks in the camps – where sources and eyewitnesses say they are held in inhumane conditions, interrogated and sometimes tortured – some are sent across the border to Russia and receive state documents.

From checkpoints in Rostov and other Russian cities, many Ukrainians are then transferred to remote corners of Russia, the sources said. In some cases, Ukrainians have been sent to the island of Sakhalin, a remote tip of the Pacific Ocean in Russia’s far east – 10,000 miles from the Ukrainian border. If they’re lucky, sources tell CNN, Russia will provide housing in residential areas and maybe a Russian SIM card and a small amount of cash.

Others are simply left with nothing and expected to survive on their own. Other Ukrainians are still stuck in filter camps inside Russia near their homes with no way to leave, other sources added.

Taken together, Western intelligence reports described by CNN sources offer new details that go beyond eyewitness accounts scattered across the region and paint a disturbing picture of a comprehensive resettlement process.

Claims of cultural genocide: It’s all part of Russia’s efforts to cement political control over the occupied areas, sources say – partly by eliminating Ukrainians believed to be sympathetic to Kyiv and partly by diminishing Ukrainian national identity through depopulation and what some human rights activists call “cultural genocide”. “It is a blind system that Russia has used before, especially during the two Chechen wars.

Intelligence officials believe that all Ukrainians entering Russia are processed through these screening camps. Senior US diplomats have already publicly condemned the practice and declared the actions to constitute war crimes.

“Ukrainians don’t necessarily have to be thrown in the back of a truck but many are put in a situation where they have no choice: you get on the bus and you go to the filtration and then to Russia or you die in the shelling,” said Tanya Lokshina, Europe and Central Asia associate director at Human Rights Watch. “These are forcible transfers prohibited by the laws of war.”

The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Precise numbers are hard to confirm, and officially Western estimates range from tens of thousands to 1 million people.

But even the most conservative estimates hint at a massive program of forced displacement on a staggering scale. And even though US officials have publicly cited much lower numbers, the sources say that in reality it is clear that at least hundreds of thousands of people were pushed through the camp system and sent to Russia.

Late last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the Russian armed forces were “doing everything to prevent deaths among the civilian population”. Since the start of the special military operation, more than 1.37 million people have been evacuated from dangerous regions of the people’s republic. , as well as from Ukraine to Russia.”

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