Russia raises number of refugees arriving from Ukraine to more than 2.5 million

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US calls on Moscow to “immediately end” its “filtering operations” and “forced deportations”

Russian authorities on Thursday raised to more than 2.5 million the number of people, including 400,000 children, who have arrived in the country fleeing the war in Ukraine, most of them from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics, located in the Donbas region (east).

“Despite all the difficulties created by Kiev, over the past day and without the participation of the Ukrainian authorities 32,361 people, including 5,463 children, have been evacuated from dangerous regions of Ukraine and the republics in the Donbas,” specified the head of the Russian National Defense Control, Mikhail Mizintsev.

Thus, he stressed that “since the beginning of the special military operation, 2,529,793 people have been evacuated,” before adding that there are more than 9,500 temporary reception centers for refugees in the country, as reported by the Russian news agency Interfax.

Ukraine has accused Russia of carrying out forced population transfers from the territories it controls as part of the invasion launched on February 24 on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin, although Moscow has rejected these allegations and said it has limited itself to facilitating the transfer of those who want to flee the war.

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In this regard, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called on Russia to “immediately end” its “filtering operations” and “forced deportations” of citizens from Ukraine and insisted that these actions amount to “a grave breach” of the Geneva Conventions and “a war crime.”

“Russian authorities must release the detainees and allow Ukrainian citizens forcibly removed or coerced into leaving their country to return quickly and safely to their homes. We call on Russia to give independent outside observers access to ‘filtration’ facilities and areas of forced relocation of deportees in Russia,” he argued.

Blinken said that “estimates from various sources, including the Russian government, indicate that 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.”

“Moscow’s actions appear to be premeditated and immediately generate historical comparisons to ‘leak’ operations by Russia in Chechnya and other areas. President Putin’s ‘filtration’ operations are separating families, confiscating Ukrainian passports and issuing Russian passports in an apparent effort to change the demographic composition of parts of Ukraine,” he explained.

Along these lines, Blinken stressed that “reports further indicate that Russian authorities are deliberately separating Ukrainian children from their parents and abducting others from orphanages before offering them for adoption in Russia.” “Witnesses and survivors of ‘filtering’ operations, detentions and forced deportations report frequent threats, harassment and incidents of torture by Russian security forces,” he added.

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“During this process, Russian authorities also take and accumulate biometric and personal data, subject civilians to invasive searches and interrogations, and coerce Ukrainian citizens to sign agreements to stay in Russia, limiting their ability to freely return home,” he denounced, before adding that “evidence is mounting about the detention or disappearance of thousands of Ukrainian civilians who do not pass ‘filtration.'”

“Those detained or ‘ex-filtrated’ include Ukrainians considered a threat because of their potential affiliation with the Ukrainian Army, the Territorial Defense Forces, the media, the government and civil society groups,” he highlighted. “Witnesses, survivors and the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office have indicated that Russian authorities have transported tens of thousands of people to detention facilities in the Russian-controlled area of Donetsk, where many were reportedly tortured,” he noted.

Blinken further indicated that “there are reports that some people chosen for ‘filtration’ were summarily executed, in line with evidence of Russian atrocities in Bucha, Mariupol and other locations in Ukraine.” “Putin and his government must not be able to engage in these systematic abuses with impunity. Accountability is imperative,” he stressed.

“That is why we support the efforts of Ukrainian and international authorities to collect, document and preserve evidence of atrocities. Together, we are dedicated to holding those responsible for war crimes and other atrocities accountable. The United States and our partners will not be silent. Ukraine and its citizens deserve justice,” he concluded.

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