THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s briefing on Russian filtration operations and the human cost in Ukraine. My name is Wes Robertson and I’m the moderator for today’s briefing. Joining us today is a panel of three briefers: Nathaniel Raymond, executive director of Yale’s Humanitarian Research Lab; Belkis Wille from Human Rights Watch; and Olha Reshetylova from the Media Initiative for Human Rights, or MIHR.
And now for the ground rules. This briefing is on the record. We will post a transcript and video of this briefing later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov. Please make sure that your Zoom profile has your full name and the media outlet you represent.
Each of our briefers will now give short opening remarks and then we will open it up for questions. We’ll start with Professor Raymond, followed by Belkis and then Olha. Over to you, Professor Raymond.
MR RAYMOND: Thank you very much, and it’s a pleasure to be here this morning with all of you. The headlines from the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab’s work at the Yale School of Public Health on filtration are the following four key takeaways: one, we used a combination of open source information, including Telegram messages and combined with satellite imagery, to identify what we’re calling a system of filtration. Often when filtration operations by Russia and its proxies are discussed, the term used is filtration camps. What we identified is four different types of facilities in Donetsk Oblast that make up a system. One component is registration, the second is holding, the third is secondary interrogation, and the fourth is detention.
And I want to stress that this is not just a question of camps. It’s a question of a dynamic logistical system used in areas where Russia controls to filter amongst the civilian population those who are considered a threat to Russia and its proxies, often holding them for weeks or months at a time incommunicado, which is a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law.
Second key takeaway from our research is that in the case of the Olenivka prison, also known as Volnovakha penal colony 120, we see disturbed earth in satellite imagery that corroborates a on the-ground allegation that there was alleged digging of graves in April of this year. We see a second area of disturbed earth around July 2022 which also is consistent with alleged individual or mass graves located near the barracks where the individuals in the siege of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol earlier in the year are allegedly held.
The third takeaway is that the individuals who enter the filtration system don’t have one common experience. Different individuals may experience filtration differently. For some it may be a process of hours, for others weeks or months, but I want to stress – and this is an important note – there are many different types of demographic groups in the filtration system in Donetsk Oblast: potential POWs, women, children, civilian males, elders. We identified where these groups were held and we have not released that file due to the sensitivity of that information.
The last point is we identified 21 facilities to a high confidence standard, and what does that mean? The 21 facilities included in this report, which can range from schools to farmers markets used as registration points to penal colonies to camp-like settings had five individual pieces of information corroborating their location, when they were used, how they were used, et cetera. There were seven additional sites that were not included in the report because they didn’t meet our very conservative high confidence standard.
The closing point here is our report should be as much about what we don’t know regarding filtration as much as it shows what we do know, meaning there are questions we need answered. How many people are in this system? What is their current status? What conditions are – they’re being held in? Is there additional evidence to support allegations of torture and in some cases potentially extrajudicial killing?
We can’t answer these questions with open source, with satellites, with testimonies, with other methods until there is ground access by international monitors from the United Nations and other human rights and humanitarian groups who underneath international law have the obligation to be allowed into those facilities by Russia and its proxies. So I want to end saying that the work of Yale and our colleagues on this call is simply the beginning. We need access to determine the truth about filtration in Donetsk and other oblasts previously or currently under Russia’s control.
MS WILLE: Thanks so much, Nathaniel, for those comments. I think your report was really fantastic. Your findings matched ours at Human Rights Watch. As some of you may know, we published a long report on this topic. I think it was about a week ago that it came out. And I was struck when I read the Yale report by how our findings really did match each other’s, even though ours was not just remote research that we deployed, but it was really in person field research that we – I spent weeks in Zaporizhzhia area interviewing people that were coming out of Mariupol and were making it there. And I had colleagues who were interviewing people also in Russia, and so it is really a testament to your work that you were able to do the research you were able to all remotely.
The – we spoke about in our report filtration points, and there we were really just talking about the places where this security screening was happening. We identified 15 of those points which very much matched the ones that you identified. These were normally police stations, other government administrative buildings. I think the media has gotten it a little bit wrong by reporting on these as filtration camps. These are not camps. These are government administrative buildings for the most part where you have DNR officials that are essentially carrying out an abusive security screening process.
Now, what we saw in our findings were that the people most likely to have undergone filtration were people from the Mariupol area specifically, not necessarily other areas that are occupied. And these were the people who were leaving Mariupol on foot. They did not have access to their own vehicles. Those with access to their own vehicles were able to get into their car and drive. They usually had to go through 20 Russian checkpoints but then were able to make it to Ukrainian-controlled territory for the most part. But the people really victim to this practice are those that were on foot, who had to leave the city on foot, or who were in basements while Russian forces came in, rounded them all up, and put them onto buses. Those leaving on foot started walking out of the city. They again ended up at these transit points where there buses, and they had to get onto these buses. That was the only way out. And these were buses that took them into the DNR’s territory for the most part and took them to these filtration points.
They were then held and housed for many, many days usually in school houses that are now being used to sort of house people while they wait for their turn. So when they arrive in these areas, they get a number. I spoke to one man who had to wait almost a month, and what – the filtration point he went through, he was told that on the day he went through that process that that filtration point had quote/unquote “filtered” 60,000 people. So as Nathaniel said, we don’t know how many people have gone through this process, but you start to get a sense of numbers – at least we can we’re talking about tens of thousands of people. And everyone we interviewed who went through filtration said that they were going through that process with thousands of other people at the time.
The questions people were asked is pretty much identical in the interviews that we did. People were asked about personal details, familial ties, job history. Then they were asked political questions, what do they feel about the Russian special military operations, how do they feel about Zelenskyy, how do they feel about the Ukrainian military. And they also had their biometrics collected. So they had their fingerprints taken, their palm prints. Their phones were in every case searched, and in some cases their phones were plugged into a computer. And they have no idea what happened to their phones at that point. Was – were their phones searched using some kind of app that can identify, for example, deleted items, or was something added onto their phones? They really don’t know, and we haven’t been able to get to the bottom of that.
The – I think what’s really important to distinguish here is, first of all, one of the key reasons we’re calling this filtration process illegal is because of its scope, because it’s being applied to people who did not make a choice to enter this territory that is de facto controlled by Russia and the DNR. And so they’re being forced into an area, and then they’re being forced to give up data in a context which is a violation of their right to privacy. There is no lawful basis for this data collection. And this is why we, as Human Rights Watch, determined that it was unlawful and a violation of the right to privacy.
We also need to situate this, I think, in the bigger context of what’s going on inside of Russia because the question that I’ve gotten from the media very often is why is this happening? Why is Russia so interested in collecting all this data on people? And I think there we can look at what’s going on inside Russia, the fact that there are different Russian Government bodies over the years that have started to really develop mass data collection exercises, including biometric data, whether we’re talking about the Moscow metro system or other ministers. There’s a huge initiative inside of Russia to collect mass amounts of personal data on people within the country, and this is sort of an extension of that that’s happening but targeting, of course, Ukrainian civilians outside of the territory of Russia.
As Nathaniel said, we don’t know a lot about what happens to people who quote/unquote “fail” filtration, although we did speak to some people who knew loved ones and friends who were detained because during filtration it was identified that they had links to the military. The people we spoke to thought their loved ones had gone to Olenivka Prison. They didn’t hear that their relatives had been killed in the – in the blast that happened at the prison. But of course, as Nathaniel said, there are no independent monitors there. We really don’t know what the situation is inside the prison.
We did hear about some people being released from that prison after an administrative detention period. And what we were told is that if, once you get detained, it’s clear that you’re linked to the military but not to Azov Battalion or a group that’s been determined by the DNR, by Russia, to be a quote/unquote “terrorist” organization, that you do get released after an administrative period of between 30 and 60 days.
Of course, this is part of the story. This continues. Our research was done starting in March, and the last interviews we did on this, I think, were in June or July. But the practice is very much continuing. The latest that we’ve heard is that now filtration has really entered the city of Mariupol and is happening inside of police stations in the city. And the reason, among others, that people are doing this is not just because they’re taking to the filtration point by bus, but it’s because they’re being told you need a piece of paper that you get once you’ve completed filtration. It’s a receipt that’s issued by the filtration point. You need that to move around. You need that to get through checkpoints. You need that to potentially enter Ukrainian territory. And so that’s why a lot of people are forcing themselves to go through it.
But again, this is only part of the story. I’m not going to go into, at length, the second piece of it because it’s not the topic of today, but of course some people undergoing filtration then do get forcibly transferred to Russia. Again, this is mainly targeting people who are on foot, who went through filtration and weren’t able to come up with the money to find a driver in the DNR to take them to the Ukrainian-controlled side. We interviewed many people who were able to get the money and made it to Zaporizhzhia. But there are many people who couldn’t come up with the money, so the only bus that they could get on that would take them further to safety was a bus going to Russia.
And so when we talk about forced transfers in this context, we’re not talking about soldiers putting a gun to peoples’ head and saying you have to go to Russia or I’ll shoot you. But we are talking about a context that is fundamentally coerced, where people do not have a genuine choice to make in some instances. And what’s very important that I wanted to sort of note on this part is it’s not just coming from the Mariupol area.
So filtration is really centered around the Mariupol area and people being taken to the DNR, but we also have seen forcible transfers from other parts of the country into Russia. And some of the cases we documented in our report specifically are happening in Kharkiv region, with one anecdote I’ll give you of a woman who was told at the end of May that there was a green corridor that had been established.
Russian soldiers told her, if you get on this bus, it will take you to Kharkiv City, which is under Ukrainian control, and you can see your mother. She got on the bus with her neighbors, and then she looked out the window and saw halfway through her journey that she was inside of Russia. She did not want to go to Russia. She was taken there against her will. And that’s really what some of these forced transfers look like. And then it took her many, many days to figure out how to get out of this reception center that she was in, how to get a train ticket, how to get to Poland, and then to get back into Ukraine.
And just to say she’s one of the lucky ones; she had a smartphone, she knew how to reach volunteers. Inside of Russia there are networks of volunteers that are helping Ukrainians who don’t want to be there to get out. But that really requires someone that has the access to these systems, is on social media, has the literacy to be able to get that information. Many Ukrainians, we imagine, are inside of Russia and don’t have that information. They don’t know that they can leave. They don’t know how to leave. And some – they were put on buses and taken to Russia but didn’t have all of their documents, so they might not have a valid passport and so they might have a very hard time leaving Russia and going anywhere else.
So I’ll pause there, and I’m very happy to get into any more depth when we go to the Q&A.
MS RESHETYLOVA: Good morning for those who are in the U.S. and good evening for those who are in Europe. My name is Olha Reshetylova. I represent the Media Initiative for Human Rights. And many thanks to our colleagues for these brilliant reports and it’s very, very important that you keep in focus those grave human rights abuses which are – which going on in the occupied territories.
We observe this situation as well, and just I’d like to emphasize that Russians don’t consider this – don’t call this procedure filtration itself. They consider it an absolutely legal and normal for them practice. The word “filtration” appeared during the events, as my colleague said, in blocked Mariupol when hundreds of thousands of people tried to flee from the city, and when someone managed to pass – to pass Russian checkpoints but someone didn’t, and people who were taken to interrogation just disappeared and there was no information about what happened to them.
From the view of international and human rights law, we can call this enforced disappearances. And one more point which is important to emphasize is that we have been observing this situation previously since the very beginning of the armed conflict in Ukraine. We saw that people in occupied Crimea or occupied parts of Donbas were detained by Russian law enforcement bodies or those Russian proxies, and they also were interrogated and they were detained illegally. And it was something like this filtration, but we didn’t call it like filtration.
The mass filtration procedures began, as I said, during the events in Mariupol and spread into other occupied territories – for example, in Kherson or occupied regions in – near Zaporizhzhia. Zaporizhzhia. And as we saw, Russians consider these procedures as very effective and then they decided that everyone from the age of 15 has to go – to pass through this filtration procedure. It means that everyone, every citizen, can be stopped, for example, on the street, or they can come to house and check your phones, check your body, your skin. If you have some tattoos, they check your loyalty to the occupational authorities or to the Ukrainian Armed Forces or something like that. And this is the first stage of this filtration procedure. And if you don’t – if you fail to undergo through this first stage, they can detain you and take you to some interrogation.
Sometimes we review it from the dozens of our interviews of those who managed to flee from the occupied territories or from their relatives. So if they don’t like you, somehow they take you to the other station to interrogate you with psychological pressure or sometimes even with tortures. And we saw this – the same practices in – previously in Crimea and occupied Donbas. And this practice are mostly of Russian FSB, and they tried to make Russia to you to understand what you think deep, deep in your mind. And after that, if you don’t pass this second stage, just they make you to go to the – another stage. It’s like administrative detention. And from this moment, a person becomes like hostage. We consider those persons who disappear to – as hostages in pre-detention centers or in prisons on the occupied territories. We figure out at least 22 places of so-called filtration camps, but as Belkis said, it is not necessary like camps. It can be some facilities, like administrative buildings or some police buildings or something like that. But there are camps itself as well where people are detained.
And after that, after these – that stage, they’re – usually they are taken to prisoners in pre-detention centers. For example, like Olenivka is a famous place where people are captured by Russians. And for example, we have a questioned person who – volunteer from Mariupol who went to Mariupol to help people to flee from Mariupol, and he was detained. And he spent three months in different facilities, from Lynivka to Donetsk, to pre-detention center in Donetsk, and then after three months he was just released. They gave him this paper about the undergoing of the filtration, and then he found himself in the occupied city of Donetsk, and he didn’t know what to do and he had no money or no other resources to get to the under control territory – I mean, to Ukrainian territory. And so he had to do something to get to his relatives, or something like that.
For example, we have another interview of a person from Luhansk region, from Starobilsk, the city of Starobilsk, who had to pass this procedure for three times – the first time in Starobilsk, and then when he decided to go to the third country, to Estonia, through – via Russia, he also passed this procedure on the Ukrainian-Russian border and then on the Russian-Estonian border. And for each time he was interrogating and they asked him the same questions, and they made pressure on him and sometimes he was beaten, severely beaten, on – during these procedures.
So nothing new, unfortunately. We observe this from – since 2015, and this practices are just spreading on the newly occupied territories. And for now we found out the new information about the new filtration camps and on the entrance to Crimea, because a lot of people, because of very active battles in Kherson region, have no other choice as to go to the occupied Crimea to flee from this war zone. And this is the only way they can flee. And so on the entrance of Crimea, we see that we have new filtration camp in Armyansk. It is like a small town on the administrative border with Crimea. And the other filtration camps – a camp we found out is in Zaporizhzhia region in Vasylivka. We don’t know the exact number how many people are there, and how many people were not able to undergo this procedure there, but we have testimonies at least of more than 10 persons from the – from Crimea, from relatives of those who was – who were trying to go to Crimea, to occupied Crimea, and failed this procedure. And so we – just for now they are just disappeared. We didn’t find any information about them and what happened to them.
So we continue, we keep observing the situation, but as Professor Raymond said, this is too difficult to find some information without access to these territories. And as you know, like international organization or international missions have access there, and unfortunately the International Committee of the Red Cross are not helpful in these situations because Russian – Russians don’t give them permission to come to these filtration camps and to see what’s going on there, and even if they, like, receive this permission, of course nobody will show them what’s really going on there and what happened to those people who are severely tortured there or who are just beaten or who are under psychological pressure.
So maybe I will stop here, and if there are any questions I’m ready to answer.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much to all three of you for your opening statements. Now is the time for Q&A. If you have questions, please go to the participant field and virtually raise your hand. We will call on you, and you can unmute yourself and ask your question. You can also submit questions via the chat box. If you’ve not already done so, please take the time now to rename your Zoom profile with your full name and the name of your media outlet.
I do see we have – we have a question submitted in the chat box, and we also have a hand raised. So let’s go ahead – first we’ll go to the raised hand. Alex, if you would like to unmute yourself. It’s Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you so much. First of all, Wes, thanks for your attention to this crucial topic. I really appreciate that. My name is Alex Raufoglu; I represent independent news agency Turan, which is based in Azerbaijan. A couple questions here, and the first one goes to Mr. Raymond, if possible. And of course, if anyone else wants to step in and take the rest, I would appreciate that.
You mentioned that different individuals are treated differently. Can you please expand on that – as much as possible, of course? Any potential group in your findings has been in particular targeted harsher than the others? As you know, we have heard about minorities, women, and other groups. How would you describe the most vulnerable category? Of course, every life matters, but I’m asking because we have heard a lot about Kremlin’s so-called “kill list” that they reportedly put together even before the Russia war.
Secondly, the State Department made it clear last week that at these facilities, being an extensive network, are operating under Kremlin’s directive, what people deem to be Putin’s inner circle. I wonder if there’s any particular name you come across repeatedly in your research? And separately, I’m also wondering whether your findings match with the recent DNI maps that we have seen. Are there new locations that you are going to focus on after maps came up?
And lastly, I’m also curious if filtration camps open up so-called area of cooperation between Russia and its allies given today’s summit that we are all watching here in Washington, D.C. Everyone’s focused on the Shanghai event. Is the Russia and its allies, such as China and others, which are known with their shady experiences in this sort of camps, particularly where it comes to tactics and of course resources that they using, that includes of course hardware, equipment which Russia might or might not be able to access due to sanctions?
And lastly – I promise this kind of last one, if possible to Olha – because she talked about the Crimea experience. The State Department assesses that Moscow believes their filtration method is crucial to its efforts to maintain influence or territory it currently controls. I’m just wondering whether do you see it as part of the Moscow’s annexation strategy? Can you please expand on that? I really appreciate your perspective on that.
And if I may, in your – Mr. Raymond, you also mentioned access. Just curious if you have reached out to anyone, and if so, have you heard back from Russia and others if there’s any light at the end of this tunnel. Thank you so much again.
MR RAYMOND: To take the last part first, questions of access in terms of international monitors, that’s in the purview of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, OSCE, and others who are attempting to access those facilities. And we’ve had no role or no contact in those access negotiations, which are the purview of those organizations alone.
To take the first part, I would say, as you said, all populations are vulnerable, some uniquely so. If I had to focus on one population that seems to be the focus, from what we’ve seen – and I’d also defer to my colleagues here to get their sense about whether this jibes with what they’ve seen – is military age males, I would say, are the most at risk in this system, but I wouldn’t create a hierarchy of harm here. I would sort of identify different scenarios of vulnerability for different demographics.
For children who have been separated – and they’re allegedly inside Russia or at other holding facilities – they have unique vulnerability. For women, there has been allegations of treatment; I wouldn’t say yet at the level of SGBV, Sexual Gender-Based Violence, from what we’ve seen, but specifically gender-related abuses. But in terms of who is at most risk in the long-term detention facilities, it’s overwhelmingly military age males.
I’d turn it over to my other colleagues on the call for what they’d like to add or any of the other pieces of Alex’s questions.
MS RESHETYLOVA: With the answer about the (inaudible) strategy of the occupation of Russia, I think that Kremlin pursues at least – I don’t know – a few goals arranged in these filtration procedures and filtration-like activities. The first one, of course, is to find to those citizens who are loyal to Ukrainian authorities, to Ukraine. And I have to say that they are effective in this, and of course they – the second is, as Belkis said, to collect personal data. And I don’t know the big goal, big aim of this, but I understand that having this data, they have – they can be more effective in the breaking of resilience of Ukrainians.
And the third aim, as I see, is like this filtration is a tool of terror and of keeping everyone in total fear if they are in the occupied territories. And of course after about like a few disappearances during filtration or during detentions, of course you will not be such active in your break for Ukrainians, Ukrainian activities and so on. And unfortunately, they are very, very effective in this. Of course, they have – they are experienced in these measures because they conduct it in Chechnya previously and in – maybe in occupied territories of Georgia and so on, and in Donbas and Crimea. So this is – this is their strategy as I see, and it is – once again, it is not new. I think it’s from the KGB methodology. And I think during the Soviet Union, there was – we saw the same practices in history so – and they use the same practices.
MS WILLE: Maybe I’ll just come in on that first question that Nathaniel already answered. This difference of treatment, this is something that we saw very much as well. We spoke to many different people who went through filtration in different locations. Some went to the same location and had different experiences. And so I think this difference in treatment was in the sense of, for one thing, how long it took. Some people waited a day; some people waited weeks. Some people dealt with soldiers that were more aggressive, some that were less aggressive, some that were more respectful, some that were more abusive. So in that sense, it was very different. Everyone had a different experience, and I think speaks to the fact that, while this is a widespread procedure that’s been set up, it’s extremely chaotic. It’s not well-organized. And I think that is why you see people with very different experiences. This is not a well-organized system.
At the same time, I did find it remarkable that every single person we spoke to was asked the identical questions. And so in that sense you see that there is an organization to this. Whether chaotic or not, there is a sort of thinking behind it, a deliberateness of the process, which even more increases our concern about it, because this was very much constructed as a way of doing this mass security screening, and as Olha said, to essentially figure out in an effective way who is linked to the armed forces.
The issue of children, which I’ll just touch on because Nathaniel brought it up, as many of you know, there have been a lot of numbers that have come out from the Russian side, from the Ukrainian side about 500,000 children or so that have been taken to Russia. I would say that number doesn’t tell us how many of those children were located in LNR, DNR prior to this and were evacuated by Russia and Russian-backed forces to Russia when the hostilities began, because that is a certain number.
We in our report did identify 17 specific children who had been at a medical institution in Mariupol. Ukrainian authorities were trying to evacuate them once the area came under Russian control. They were in a car that was stopped at a DNR checkpoint and DNR authorities took them away from the driver, who was trying to evacuate them to safety, and then sent them into the DNR and made a big sort of press junket about it with lots of photos showing that these children had been quote/unquote “saved” by the DNR. They were then held in the DNR. We don’t know what happened to all of the children. Six of them eventually were able to get out. They were taken to France, eventually, to their foster parents, who had evacuated to France, but we don’t know what happened to the other children.
But just to say there are reports of tens of thousands of children that have been taken to Russia, and we really have so few details on who these children are and what situation they’re in now.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you for your responses. Our next question was put in the chat box. It’s from Evan Ingram from the Asahi Shimbun. The questions reads: “Do we understand Russia’s objective for taking Ukrainians to Russia following filtration procedures? Also, has the filtration process changed over time since the start of the conflict? Has it become more systematic, or have filtration tactics become more objectionable?” And I’m not sure – I guess all three of you if you have some comment, or if one of you wants to take the lead on this.
MS RESHETYLOVA: If I may, I’d like to compare those procedures, which had been arranged by Russians in northern regions of Ukraine when they were occupied, like Kyiv (inaudible) region, and those which they arrange on the south region, like in Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, and in the south part of Donetsk region. As we saw, there were no systematic activities in northern region. They just detained all civilians, and during the liberation of those regions, they just take and transferred all those civilians to different facilities in Russia, like prisons and pre-detention centers. We know about at least five hundreds of those civilians from northern regions, and they weren’t interrogating or something like that, they just were kept in different facilities and transferred to Russia.
And I think it is because of very fast events which take – had been taking place there, first of all, but the question is why did they detain all those people and transferred them to Russia. Our answer is that they tried to fuel so-called exchange front, because they – for now they have a big number of prisoners of war in negotiations and they presented all those absolutely civilian people as combatants and as prisoners of war. For example, they dressed someone into Ukrainian uniform, uniform of Ukraine armed forces, or they published the photo of some persons to be – and you definitely – that they are civilians, and wrote that this person was detained with a gun or something like that. So at the first stage of this full-scale invasion, they just detained all people they could to fill this exchange front.
When we look at the situation in the south region, we see more systematic activities. People are not just detained and captured in some facilities, but they are interrogated. They are, like, under the pressure to – like to recognize some – they, like – that they are linked to Ukraine armed forces or something like that. So as we see, they have – Russians, I mean – have more, like, possibilities to establish occupational authorities on the occupied territories, so they behave more systematic. It is about the question about the changes from the very beginning to now, what happened with these filtration procedures.
MR RAYMOND: And just —
MS WILLE: And – go ahead, Nathaniel.
MR RAYMOND: Go for it, Belkis.
MS WILLE: Okay. There’s just one piece of it that I wanted to add too, which is for our purposes, to make a legal determination, of course, it’s irrelevant why a personal transfer occurs. So the sort of the logic behind it doesn’t matter from a legal perspective; however, of course, it’s a question that one asks and we have been asked. And we don’t get any answers on the Russian side because this is, again, something that the Russians are denying is happening. They say that all the Ukrainians in Russia went there willingly and are going there to seek safety and want to live inside Russia.
So Russia isn’t giving us sort of publicly an answer for why this is happening, but I would say, of course, when this renewed Russian invasion began, what Russia did not get was perhaps the kind of footage that it was expecting to of Russian soldiers coming into villages and people cheering and welcoming them. And so if the Russian Government without that kind of proof that Russian forces are welcome in Ukraine, if they can at least say oh, 3 million Ukrainians have decided to come and live in our country because they so much want to be inside of Russia right now, that is a PR message and that is a PR objective.
And so I think these numbers, these big numbers the Russians are putting out about how many Ukrainians are coming into Russia do serve a messaging purpose and try to serve a purpose of justifying these operations potentially.
Once inside of Russia, Ukrainians that have the money, they’re not held or sort of detained at these reception centers. If they have the money, they can get a train, they go to Moscow, they leave the country. In fact, everyone we interviewed who was inside of Russia left the country very quickly because they didn’t want to be there and they went elsewhere in Europe, whether to Estonia and Georgia, or Europe further on into the west in Germany, France, et cetera.
So Russia doesn’t seem to care about the number of Ukrainians that are staying in the country. They’re not trying to prevent Ukrainians once they get into Russia from leaving the country, and that all the more suggests that it’s really just about telling the Russian people this is how many Ukrainians have wanted to come and live here instead. So I would say that is one possible reason for some of these transfers.
MR RAYMOND: And I would just add that I think when we look back at the filtration system – and I’m not talking years but in a few months – I think we’re going to be able to say two things are true, and two things that may seem kind of paradoxical. But one is that there is significant regional differentiation and variation in terms of how these operations rolled out, how they were executed, and what were sort of regional objectives or regional variations of the operational goals.
The second thing, which is simultaneously true and I think there’s going to be more evidence to support beyond the American Government’s – U.S. Government’s statements about presidential administration being involved – is that these were command-directed operations, and so that they were command-directed operations with regional variation. And as we continue to on our side at Humanitarian Research Lab follow the filtration story, we are, I think, are going to be able to show some more of that regional difference. But the headline, however, is that we need to look at filtration operations in the context of the history of the past 25 years of how Russia has fought wars. Filtration is not new; one only needs to look at Chechnya. And these tactics are part of a repertoire of how Russia and its proxy forces engage with civilian populations under its control. We have extensive evidence on that.
The last thing I want to say is that the work of Human Rights Watch, the work of our Ukrainian colleagues on the ground, our reporting – none of it alone is enough. It is really all of these reports together, and their concurrence is really crucial. So as we go forward, it’s really about the human rights community as a group continuing to attack from all angles what is really a multidimensional human rights emergency, and none of us can do it alone. Over.
MODERATOR: I see we have one additional follow-up question. We’re getting short on time, but Alex, if you’d like to unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Thank you, Wes. Just to quickly pick up on where Mr. Raymond just left off, I want to re-ask two of my questions that are left unanswered. I apologize for asking too much. It was unfairly too much.
One was about potential cooperation between Russia and countries like China on this sphere given their experience on this, because Dr. Raymond just said, like, take a look at last 25 years of similar actions.
And number two, any mastermind in the Kremlin that you could name? The State Department made it clear that they believe that someone in the circle of Putin who is in charge of these – this network. Thank you so much.
MR RAYMOND: I’d say quickly, second part no, not yet, in terms of a clear, controlling individual. I don’t know if anyone has other findings.
And then there is no evidence of Russian-Chinese cooperation, but I do want to say that both the Chinese gulag system in Xinjiang and this system, as Belkis point out, which is critical and also as Olha pointed out, that data collection and surveillance is an essential component and objective of this system. And so this system, while serving many purposes, is similar to the Xinjiang system in the fact that making the civilian population legible for purposes of additional surveillance and repression is clearly central to how this system was designed. We can say that with clarity. Over.
MODERATOR: All right, I think that is all we have time for in terms of questions. We want to thank our briefers – so this will conclude our briefing – give special thanks to them for sharing their time with us here today. And to all those of you who participated, thank you very much and good day.