Russian forces have allegedly forced Ukrainian citizens from Mariupol and Kharkiv in recent months to settle in the Russian Federation or in regions controlled by Russia, according to a report by aid agency Human Rights Watch.
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It is not clear exactly how many people are involved. But “when people agree to move because they are afraid of violence or coercion”, that constitutes “a serious violation of the laws of war”, according to the aid organization. Russia could therefore be prosecuted for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, it said.
The aid organization interviewed 54 people, including many Ukrainian refugees from the port city of Mariupol. Russia organized transport for people fleeing the city, but told some they had no choice but to stay in regions it controls.
Russian authorities allegedly subjected thousands of Ukrainian citizens to “filtration,” a mandatory screening, according to the Human Rights Watch report. Russian troops took fingerprints and photos of their faces, searched their personal belongings and questioned them about their political views, the aid organization said.
According to Human Rights Watch, the scale and systematic way in which Ukrainians had to undergo that screening is excessive and violates the right to privacy. Belkis Wille, researcher at the aid organization, emphasizes that “no one should undergo a screening to get to safety”.
Some respondents said they came to Russia voluntarily, including citizens seeking to avoid Ukraine’s rule that men between the ages of 18 and 60 must remain in the country. At the end of July, the Russian news agency TASS spoke of 2.8 million Ukrainians who have entered Russian territory, including almost 450,000 children.
According to the aid agency, Russian authorities must give citizens the opportunity to “go safely to Ukrainian territory if they wish,” and must “stop pressurizing Ukrainian citizens to go to Russia”. Human Rights Watch has so far received no response to the report from the Russian side.