Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
United States Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 7, 2022
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thanks also to Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo and Assistant Secretary-General Kehris for their briefings. And thank you very much, Ms. Drik, for offering a stark and credible perspective on the situation from a civil society perspective.
Colleagues, I want you to imagine, for a moment, that you are a relative in Mariupol. You and your partner are young and healthy. You have a 10 year old son and a two year old daughter. You are happy. You are not particularly political, but you enjoy your life in Ukraine. And suddenly, Russia invades.
Russian forces are bombing your schools and hospitals. They destroy your peaceful city. Yet you did your best to protect your family. You huddled in shelters. You tried to survive.
And one day, you and your family are trying to scrounge for food – and you’re stopped in the street by Russian forces. You are escorted, against your will, to a center to undergo a filtration. You are terrified of what will happen next, as your grandmother has told you stories of her friends and neighbors who disappeared under the Soviet Union – and even what Russia did to its own citizens during the war in Chechnya.
You are separated from your partner and your children. Your personal biometric information is saved. Your Ukrainian driver’s license and your passports are confiscated. Your cell phone is searched for perceived anti-Russian messages.
You are stripped of your clothes. You are interrogated. You are beaten. You hear gunshots and screams from nearby rooms – others deemed more threatening are tortured and killed.
Because you are of fighting age, you are asked to fight for Russia. When you refuse, you are given a Russian passport and sent to Russia against your will, away from your family and with no way to communicate with anyone you know or love.
You have been screened.
This is the picture that many credible reports from various sources present of the so-called “filtering operations” that Russia has set up in Ukraine. We now have eyewitness testimonies from victims – and increasingly detailed reports from groups such as Human Rights Watch, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Yale School of Public Humanitarian Research Laboratory Health, and you heard two of our briefers today share this information. Even Russia’s state-run TASS news agency has reported on the many Ukrainians who have been transferred to Russia.
In these screening locations, the Russian authorities or their proxies search, interrogate, coerce and, it seems, sometimes torture the subjects. But these horrors are not limited to the centers that have been set up – the filtering can also occur at checkpoints, routine stops or on the streets.
In an interview conducted by Human Rights Watch, a Mariupol man said he and dozens of Mariupol residents were forced to stay in a school in disgusting conditions – and that was before they were even taken away to undergo filtration.
He said many got sick. He said, “We felt like hostages.”
These operations aim to identify individuals whom Russia deems insufficiently compliant or compatible with its control. And there is mounting credible evidence that people seen as a threat to Russian control due to perceived pro-Ukrainian tendencies are being “disappeared” or detained again. An eyewitness said he heard a Russian soldier say, “I shot at least 10 people” who hadn’t passed the screening.
Estimates from various sources, including the Russian government, indicate that Russian authorities interrogated, detained and forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens from their homes to Russia – often to isolated areas of Russia. ‘Far East.
And I want to be clear. The United States has information that Russian presidential administration officials are overseeing and coordinating these filter operations. And we further know that Russian presidential administration officials provide lists of Ukrainians to target for screening and receive reports on the scope and progress of operations.
Filtered. The word does not begin to express the horror and depravity of these premeditated policies. Watch how Russia treats Ukrainian children.
Estimates indicate that thousands of children were screened, some separated from their families and removed from orphanages before being offered for adoption in Russia. The United States has information that in July alone, more than 1,800 children were transferred from Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine to Russia.
Of course, I need not remind the Council that the forcible transfer or deportation of protected persons from occupied territories to the territory of the occupier constitutes a serious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians and constitutes a war crime.
We should take a moment to consider the fate of those who fail the filtration. Evidence mounts daily that thousands of Ukrainians deemed a threat due to their potential affiliation with the Ukrainian military, Territorial Defense Forces, media, government and civil society groups would be detained or just disappearing.
So why are they doing this? Why are they confiscating Ukrainian identity documents? Why are they forcing Ukrainians to fill out Russian passport applications? Why do they intimidate residents and evict anyone deemed a threat? Why do they systematically label Ukrainians who pass through the system? Why is Russia appointing officials in occupied areas, imposing its curriculum in schools and trying to get Ukrainian citizens to apply for Russian passports? Why are Russian forces and proxies doing their best to erase Ukraine’s living memory?
The reason is simple: to prepare for an annexation attempt.
The goal is to change feelings by force. To provide a fraudulent veneer of legitimacy to the Russian occupation and the eventual and purported annexation of even more Ukrainian territory. This effort to fabricate these facts on the ground is the predicate of mock referendums. This is part of the Russian playbook for Ukraine that we have been warning Council members against since the beginning of the war.
These referendums will attempt to create a false semblance of legality and public support so that Russia feels it can annex Kherson, Zaporizhzhya and other parts of Ukraine. Of course, we will never recognize Russia’s efforts to forcibly change Ukraine’s borders. We must hold the perpetrators of these atrocities to account. We must respond as an international community – an international community that always respects the Charter of the United Nations.
We know what Russia will say about all this. They will deny, deny, deny. But there is a simple way to find out if all of this is true. Let the United Nations in. Give access to independent observers. Give access to NGOs. Allow humanitarian access. Let the world see what’s going on.
As members of the Security Council, we are here to promote international peace and security and uphold the Charter of the United Nations. At a minimum, I hope that each of us here today recognizes that all persons subject to screening must have access to United Nations and humanitarian agencies as soon as possible, so that we can verify their well-being, as we heard it today from OHCHR. Until Russia provides this access, we will have to rely on the evidence we have accumulated and the courageous testimonies of survivors. The picture they paint, alongside editing reports, is chilling.
Colleagues, the day will come when we will meet in this Council to condemn the attempts of the Russian Federation to annex more Ukrainian territory. And I’ll ask you to remember what you’ve heard here today. No one – no one – will be able to say they haven’t been warned.