Ukrainian activists in the Eastern Human Rights Group are using social media to build up a register of people forcibly deported from Russian-occupied areas.
A bot has been launched on Telegram (see @come_back_to_ukraine_bot) to contact citizens removed to Russia.
Deporting people against their will is a war crime. International and local human rights organisations, and the Ukrainian government, say there is mounting evidence that Russia is doing so on a large scale.
The Russian defence ministry said on 18 June that more than 1.9 million people, including 307,000 children, had been evacuated from Ukraine to Russia since the full-scale invasion on 24 February. Ukrainian activists deny Russian claims that all evacuees have left Ukraine voluntarily.
“If we don’t find how to help them, Russia will erase the Ukrainian identity of these children”, Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties responded.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in April protested against a scheme to resettle residents of Mariupol in the most inhospitable and distant areas of Russia.
Halya Coynash reported that the Mariupol council had drawn attention to a leaflet distributed to Mariupol residents “inviting” them to the Russian Far East. She commented:
First they destroy a successful and warm city on the Sea of Azov, and then they drive its residents to Siberia or Sakhalin to work as cheap labour.
Mariupol’s mayor, Vadim Boichenko, said that he has a list of 33,500 residents forcibly deported either to Russia or to the Donbass “republics”, and is coordinating rescue efforts.
Coynash also published details of the “filtration” of residents in the occupied areas by Russian forces, with those considered “unreliable” being sent to detention camps in the Donbass “republics”.
Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said last month that 210,000 children, and more than 1 million other Ukrainians, had been deported against their will. Reuters reported these numbers, saying they could not independently verify them, and that the Kremlin had not responded to a request for comment.
Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said earlier this month that a war crimes case was being built up relating to the deportation of children to Russia.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in its report on human rights violations in Ukraine between 24 February and 12 April, said that its Mission had received “numerous consistent reports” on forced deportations from the occupied territories to Russia. It said that Russia had denied these accusations, but added:
If (some of) these deportations were forcible (including because Russia created a coercive environment in which those civilians had no other choice than to leave to Russia) and as they necessarily concerned civilians who had fallen into the power of Russia as an occuping power, this violates in each case International Humanitarian Law and constitutes a war crime.
Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister of Poland, said on a visit to Kyiv this month that deportations – which recalled Poles’ experience under the Russian empire and the Soviet Union – are “an exceptional crime, about which there is almost complete silence in western Europe”.
The Eastern Human Rights Group, set up in 2014 by labour activists in Donbass and now operating from Kyiv, decided to work on a register of deported citizens after appealing unsuccessfully for the Ukrainian government to take action.
“Our team lobbied repeatedly for setting up a state structure to deal with repatriation, but, as happens quite often, the government did not listen”, the group stated on 13 June. “We decided to take action on the issue ourselves, and at a non-government level we are working on the issue of repatriating Ukrainians.”
□ Two all-European public zoom calls about the Russian-occupied areas are being held on Monday 4 July and Thursday 14 July, on which Ukrainian activists will report on what can be done to support civil society there.
The initiative is supported by the European Network in Solidarity with Ukraine. You need to register in advance to participate.
□ The Eastern Human Rights Group has also reported on forcible military mobilisation in the Donbass “republics”, and use of the death penalty there. Here are three recent facebook posts. With thanks to Anna Yegorova for the translations.
For the last three weeks, forced mobilisation in the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk regions has slowed down, due to active protests by mothers, sisters and spouses of the forcibly mobilized.
However, the Ministry of National Security in the Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” swiftly suppressed women’s protests, as we recorded the detention of several women in Yenakievo and Rovenky.
Since last Saturday, military patrols searching for men of conscription age in the cities of occupied Donbas have become more active with men being detained in the streets again. (The detentions are not as massive as in March, but that is understandable: there are simply not as many men as there were in March.)
This new stage of forced mobilisation is associated with the need to send new manpower to fight in Donbass.
Forced mobilisation has again affected workers at enterprises, and enterprise managers have spoken out against it. The administrations of the “Luhansk people’s republic” and “Donetsk people’s republic” said that “construction brigades” [a term dating back to the Soviet times, usually designating student groups as “volunteers” to work on farms and plants] from the Russian Federation would soon arrive to replace the workers [so that the latter could be send to the battlefield].
Over the past three weeks, the so-called “people’s militia” of the Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” has increased military patrols in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, due to the increasing number of defections from AK-1 and AK-2 units. Forcibly mobilised people, even after they have been dressed in uniform, seek opportunities to escape from the Russian convoy escorting them to the front line.
Frequent defections became public thanks to women in [the occupied territories of] Donetsk and Luhansk reporting to Vera Yastrebova, the head of the Eastern Human Rights group.
One woman said that her brother escaped with a group of mobilised men on the way to the front line, and now they are wanted by the local “authorities”. There are also cases when mobilised residents of the two “people’s republics” jump off trains that take them to the front line, following a brief training in the Russian Federation.
Over the past three weeks, there have been more than 100 cases of defections from the “LPR” and “DPR”, a source from the DPR told us.
By Vera Yastrebova. A working group is preparing to change the criminal “law” of the Luhansk “people’s republic” to introduce a new type of punishment – the death penalty, I have been told by sources there.
A decision was first made back in 2021, when the Kremlin decided to create unitary “legislation” for the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics”, and essentially rewrite the laws in Luhansk to match those of Donetsk. But they haven’t had time to do that.
Now the principle has been agreed, and changes are being developed very quickly. The haste is due to the fact that the Luhansk “people’s republic” will be able to apply the death penalty to Ukrainian prisoners of war.
The issue of the “death penalty” will be further pushed by the Kremlin, in order to force Western countries to engage in direct negotiations with the leaders of the “LPR” and “DPR”, my sources say.
□ There will be all-European public zoom calls, on Monday 4 July and Thursday 14 July, with Ukrainian activists supporting people in the occupied areas. Details and link to registration here.