By Luis Lidón
Vienna, Jul 28 (EFE).- Victims of Russia’s so-called filtration camps in occupied areas of Ukraine describe a system of humiliation, beatings, forced hunger, overcrowding and scant medical assistance.
Ihor Talalay, 25, spent 88 days in one of the centers. He said his nightmare began on March 19 when agents at a Russian checkpoint took a dislike to his appearance.
Talalay, a native of Dnipro in southeast Ukraine, was a member of a volunteer group that evacuated civilians from Mariupol during the Russian siege of the city.
He was stopped while traveling in a convoy transporting evacuees away from the war-torn city.
He said his Russian interrogator was looking for signs that he could be linked to the Ukrainian military.
At these control points, Russian soldiers would force detainees to strip to the nude in the search for tattoos, marks on the skin or bruises associated with the use of weapons.
The troops would also check cell phones for images linked to Ukrainian nationalism.
“They began to beat me to obtain the answers they wanted,” Talalay said. “They did this for around an hour, hitting me again and again.”
Talalay is one of two survivors of the Russian filtration camps who spoke of his experience this week at an event organized by Ukraine at the headquarters of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.
Joining them were two family members of Serhii Tabachuk, who remains in Russian custody and has not been heard from for months.
The four participants form part of a study by the Ukrainian NGO Media Initiative for Human Rights, which has documented the existence of at least 18 filtration camps. The NGO estimates that tens of thousands of Ukrainians have passed through these centers since the Russian invasion began five months ago.
Stanislav Miroshnychenko, a member of the NGO, said the filtration process is organized into three steps with increasing violence ranging from interrogation to torture.
The first step, Miroshnychenko said, takes place at a checkpoint and involves a revision of documents and belongings. If a detainee is approved, they are given certification and can move on.
Interrogators may also decide to send the suspect to an initial filtration camp where they may be subjected to further mental and physical pressure.
If a detainee is still deemed to be suspect, then they may be sent to penitentiary camps, where abuse, torture and even extrajudicial killings are common place, according to survivors.
Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of detaining, kidnapping and torturing local leaders, journalists, activists and others whose idealogy differs from that of the Kremlin or the de facto authorities in the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics in eastern Ukraine.
Talalay said his most challenging moment came after he was moved to a police station in Donetsk, where he was forced to share a 10-square-meter cell with around 30 people.
“All the food they gave was oats and water for breakfast and a broth for the rest of the day. They tried to kill you with hunger. The hunger was constant and stayed with you all day,” he told Efe in Vienna.
The young volunteer’s nightmare ended as arbitrarily as it began. One day, without explanation, his captors let him leave and return to his city.