Russian authorities have “interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported” between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, including 260,000 children, from their homes into Russian territory, often to isolated regions in the Far East, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday.
“The unlawful transfer and deportation of protected persons,” Blinken said, “is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians and is a war crime.”
Blinken noted that he was releasing the statement on the eve of the Ukraine Accountability Conference, which is being held Thursday in The Hague, Netherlands. The conference’s website says that its purpose is “to ensure that war crimes committed during the war in Ukraine will not go unpunished.” Its hosts are the Dutch government, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and the European Commission.
Russia has acknowledged that 1.5 million Ukrainians are in Russia, but it asserted that they were evacuated for their own safety.
Ukrainian officials have long sounded the alarm on Russia’s deportations, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last month describing them as “one of Russia’s most heinous war crimes.” Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he said, the deportations have included more than 200,000 children.
Testimonies given to The New York Times and other news outlets by deportees who escaped Russia have included descriptions of filtration sites and accounts of interrogations, of beatings and torture of those deemed to have ties to Ukraine’s armed forces, and of disappearances.
European officials have described the filtration sites as being set up in as schools, sports centers and cultural institutions in parts of Ukraine recently seized by Russian forces.
From those sites, many Ukrainians have been transported to destinations across Russia — often to regions far from Ukraine, near China or Japan, according to the testimonies.
Some U.S. officials previously raised concerns about deportations but only gave vague assessments of the scale.
Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said during a speech in Vienna in May that many eyewitnesses had given detailed accounts of Russia’s “brutal interrogations” in filtration camps that at least several thousand Ukrainians had been forced into, and deportations on the order of at least tens of thousands.
Blinken’s statement Wednesday also noted reports that indicated Russian forces were “deliberately” separating Ukrainian children from their parents and abducting others from orphanages. Eyewitnesses and survivors, the statement said, described “frequent threats, harassment and incidents of torture by Russian security forces.”
In some instances, the statement said, Ukrainian’s passports were confiscated, and they were issued with Russian passports instead, “in an apparent effort to change the demographic makeup of parts of Ukraine.”
There was also mounting evidence, the statement said, that Russian authorities were “detaining or disappearing thousands of Ukrainian civilians” who did not pass through the filtration process, including those affiliated with the Ukrainian army, territorial defense forces, media, government and civil society groups.
The statement said reports also indicated that Russian authorities had transported tens of thousands of people to detention facilities inside Russia-controlled Donetsk, where many were tortured. According to reports, it said, others had been “summarily executed, consistent with evidence of Russian atrocities committed in Bucha, Mariupol, and other locations in Ukraine.”
Blinken’s statement said that the United States was calling for an immediate halt to the deportations and for Russian authorities to release those detained and to allow them to return home. Independent outside observers, the statement said, should be permitted to access so-called filtration facilities, which serve as a way station for many deportations, as well as the places Ukrainians have been deported.
“President Putin and his government will not be able to engage in these systematic abuses with impunity,” the statement said. “Accountability is imperative.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.