The U.S. called on Russia to stop forcibly deporting upwards of 1.6 million Ukrainians to “isolated regions” in the Far East on Wednesday, calling the the act a “war crime.”
“Russian authorities have interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, including 260,000 children, from their homes to Russia – often to isolated regions in the Far East,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, one day before the Ukraine Accountability Conference set to be held in The Hague.
“The unlawful transfer and deportation of protected persons is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians and is a war crime,” Blinken added.
Russia has denied any presence of “filtration camps” used to deport Ukrainians, but the U.S. claimed Thursday that they identified at least 18 “filtration locations” on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian border set up by Russian officials.
The “filtration systems” were set up by Russian president Vladimir Putin and have purposefully separated children from parents, confiscated Ukrainian passports and issued Russian passports “in an apparent effort to change the demographic makeup of parts of Ukraine,” Blinken said.
Putin expanded fast-track Russian citizenship to all Ukrainians on Monday. Before his mandate, only those in some Russian-occupied territories were given access to the fast-track process.
Those that do not pass “filtration” have been tortured in detention camps in occupied Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine, and some have been executed, the secretary of state added, citing eyewitness reports.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that the number of Ukrainians taken to Russia could be as high as 2 million.
“All these deported people are deprived of communication, their documents are taken from them, they are intimidated and they try to disperse them to remote regions of Russia, making it is as difficult as possible for them to return home to the Motherland,” Zelensky said in a video address.
The U.S. representative to the U.N., Bathsheba Nell Crocker, sent a letter in February, before Russia launched an invasion, claiming she receieved information concerning Russian forces “creating lists” of Ukrainians to be killed after military occupation.