A view shows the prison building which was damaged by shelling in July in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict, in the settlement of Olenivka in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine August 10, 2022, in this picture taken during a media tour organised by the Russian Defence Ministry. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Apparently, Ukrainians living in the newly occupied territories have to undergo some kind of background check. In a recent report, the Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab (Yale HRL) refers to this form of research as a filter system.

This system is intended to identify Ukrainians loyal to Kyiv, members of the Ukrainian armed forces and many more. Apparently, people living in the occupied territories have to go through this “filter system” in order to obtain identity documents.

“Without a filter paper you are an insect in the DPR universe. In order to return to Mariupol or to continue their journey, everyone had to undergo a humiliating procedure,” the Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform quoted a man who is said to have received his documents in the town of Nikolske, northwest of Mariupol, as saying.

According to the Yale report, there are different stages of the filtering system that would be implemented at different locations in the occupied territory. In total, the report lists 21 verified locations of the Russian occupiers and pro-Russian separatists. Some of them are said to have gone into operation as early as March 2022, i.e. shortly after the start of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. Many other locations could therefore not be finally confirmed.

On the one hand there is the registration process, which is to be carried out at eleven different locations in the Donetsk region alone. At the end of this, the necessary documents could be handed over or the transfer to another facility, as the report shows. The Yale HRL gives these facilities the following descriptions: Custody, Secondary Interrogation, and Incarceration.

The Yale report lists at least six locations where people were “held in custody.” In the city of Novoazovsk – east of Mariupol and only about 12 kilometers from the Russian border – several schools are to be used for accommodation. “All schools in the district have been converted into temporary refugee shelters. Almost 6,000 people have already arrived in the region and at least 60,000 more are expected,” the Russian daily Pravda quoted the deputy chief of administration as saying.

Video from a detention center at a school in the village of Bezimenne, just a few kilometers to the west, shows people sleeping on the floor. “The prison conditions are terrible,” reports Ukrinform. A man can be heard in the video saying that there is only one sink with cold water in the building. If one of the “prisoners” escapes, “the intruders promise to increase the torture and shoot other prisoners.”

The detention of “Ukrainian civilians, prisoners of war and others in the territories occupied by Russia and its proxies” is taking place in at least five locations, according to the report. One of them became famous around the world on July 29, 2022. When an explosion shook prison camp number 120 near Olenivka, 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war are believed to have died. Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the attack. Human rights organizations and the Red Cross have so far not been allowed to visit.

But the Yale investigation reports suspected graves at the detention center long before the fatal incident. As early as late March or early April, the Ukrainian weekly “NV” reported on a man whose cellmate is said to have dug graves.

While the Yale investigation has not yet been able to verify these statements, satellite images from April 11 indicate that several holes were dug inside the prison camp. More holes appeared in mid-July, just days before the deadly explosion, Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins wrote on Twitter. Additional satellite images show new holes on July 27 – two days before the explosion. Kemper from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol are said to have been imprisoned in the camp.

Finally, it cannot be clarified whether the holes are actually graves. Observers assume that Russia wants to use the explosion to cover up its own war crimes. The Yale HRL therefore considers it necessary that independent observers be granted access to the identified facilities.