Ukrainians share horror stories about their country’s occupation of Russia

The abuse of the Eastern Ukrainian population by Russians: From Detentions to Torture and Missing Relatives in Kharkiv Province

Police officers who have returned to towns and villages to re-establish a Ukrainian administration have been overwhelmed by complaints of theft and property damage, but also accounts of detentions, torture and missing relatives.

Police say the abuse of the population in eastern Ukraine by Russians will probably be greater than seen in the spring because of the length and breadth of the occupation.

So far, police officers have logged more than 1,000 cases of people being detained in police stations and temporary holding facilities across the region, said Serhii Bolvinov, the police chief of Kharkiv Province. He said that the figure is probably twice or three times that.

According to witnesses, torture was normal. The police chief said signs of abuse were already visible in some of the bodies. “There are bodies that were tortured to death,” he said. There are people with injuries that include gunshots, cut genitals and tied hands.

The report describes a system of holding facilities that spanned from the Black Sea coast to Siberia.

“This is not one rogue camp, this is not one rogue mayor or governor,” says Nathaniel Raymond, executive director of the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab. It is a big and complex undertaking that does not happen by accident.

“The Russian government needs to legitimize its activities, that make all of this seem normal,” she says, “because you simply can’t move these many children through these many places without their movements being noticed.”

“In some cases there is adoption, other cases summer camp programs where the kids were slated to return home and never did,” he says, “and in some cases they are re-education camps.”

The Yale Report on Missing Ukrainian Children: The First Russian Social Media Posts Since Putin’s Adoption Announcement and the History of World War Crime

The Yale report is the most extensive look at the program so far, says Raymond. He says that it shows scale and chain of command.

The alarm grew louder in May 2022, when Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a new decree that made it quick and easy to adopt Ukrainian children, which was next to impossible before the war. Russian officials decided to extend government support for Russian families who adopt Ukrainian children, as well as giving more financial incentives for adopting handicapped kids.

The Ukrainian government and U.N. senior human rights officials have consistently raised the alarm over these activities since the early days of the war.

The Yale researchers began investigating missing Ukrainian children when the first Russian social media posts appeared last year. The messaging began at about the time of Putin’s adoption announcement, says one of the Yale researchers. He is not named to protect his work from being attacked.

He says that the first place they saw it was on Telegram and VK. A popular Russian messaging service is Telegram. It’s the Russian version of Facebook.


The Yale Lab as Cyber Cop Shop: Investigating War and World Warps for Civil Society and the Digitalization of Human Factors in the United States

But now, open-source investigators have a trove of potential source material from on-the-ground witnesses who photograph war damage, map mass graves, record interviews with refugees — and post the results online. In addition, high-resolution satellite images make it easier than ever to identify deliberately damaged hospitals, targeted grain silos or local children’s summer camps.

A group of researchers look for connections that may not go unnoticed when they research social media posts, news reports, government announcements and Russian messaging services.

“You can see people. You can look at the cars. You can see certain types of activity,” he said. “There’s a very large amount of material related to the patriotic education that they undergo while they are in camps,” he added. He says the lessons are designed to encourage Moscow’s version of the war.

According to the report, this operation is coordinated by Russia’s federal government. The program at Yale identified a number of federal, regional, and local figures involved in justifying the program.

The Yale team are all young Internet sleuths who work to verify the data they dig up and document the steps needed to meet the exacting standards and protocols for trial.

Raymond refers to the lab’s role as a ” cyber cop shop” that is conscious of a chain of custody for the evidence produced. To understand the Lab’s role, he points to the TV show Law and Order.

He says their job is to collect the evidence, digital evidence and then determine how that fits with the law.

“We are showing that we can make actionable the evidence in ways that were previously impossible.” In the past this scale of operation was only available to governments,” he says.

Raymond states that civil society is using the same tools as governments at scale and at speed, and it’s happening at the Yale Lab.

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