Shevchenkove: Ukraine combs the liberated areas in search of pro-Russians | International

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It was four in the afternoon on Monday, September 12, when several agents showed up at the home of Svetlana, a 56-year-old civil servant living on the outskirts of Kupiansk, in northeastern Ukraine. During the Russian occupation, the woman had continued to perform her functions in the registry, granting, as in the last 34 years, birth and death certificates. Both she and her husband were transferred to Shevchenkove, a town about thirty kilometers away where the kyiv authorities are conducting interviews and interrogations to try to find out who has collaborated with the invader. Some are detained, although the kyiv Government does not offer concrete data. After a night at the police station, the couple was released, but a document that she had to sign keeps her as a witness and forces her to be available to the investigators in case she had to testify again. "My position was not to work for Russia, but to work for the people of Ukraine," defends Svetlana in statements to EL PAÍS.

Sometimes, it is the neighbors themselves who give away those they consider to be collaborators and even put up posters in the streets with their photo. But who has really worked for the enemy and who has remained in his position under threats and because there was no other choice? “Some people have fled or gone into hiding. I haven't even considered it. I prefer to explain. If they find me guilty, I will respond. Better that than being afraid or hiding, ”says Svetlana, whose wish is to be able to resume her work again as soon as possible.

Ukrainian troops launched a counteroffensive in the Kharkov region on September 6, which has allowed them to recover almost all the land that had been in the hands of the enemy for half a year. From the first moment, the secret services comb these municipalities in search of pro-Russians, neighbors who pass information to the enemy, who have committed abuses or those who consider that they have been excessively involved with the provisional administration imposed by the invaders. Although many have disappeared across the border with Russia, kyiv is especially interested in profiles of officials, councilors, teachers or former members of the Security Forces. Home visits, interrogations, inspection of mobile phones and transfers to the secret services are the order of the day. The information they obtain also serves to find out more details about how the occupation has developed.

In Kharkov alone there are some 350,000 internally displaced persons and in the area that has been under the control of the Russians there are less than 100,000 people, according to data offered this Monday by the regional governor, Oleg Syehubov. Of those, many now prefer to go to safer areas or where they have services such as electricity or water, which are in the process of being restored. But kyiv wants to have that flow controlled.

A group of people get off a bus after arriving in Shevchenvoke, where the authorities looking for pro-Russian collaborators make them go through a short interview and check their documents and cell phones.Luis de Vega

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In Shevchenkove there is a trickle of buses and private cars that arrive at the parking lot of the central square, presided over by a white stone monument in honor of the famous writer and poet Taras Shevchenko. A large presence of police and military guard the place. After getting out of the vehicles, a hundred people queue at the doors of a building where a local newspaper is based, where they have to submit to a questionnaire. There are citizens of all ages and, in some cases, entire families. Some arrive with their pets and a few suitcases. For most it is a quick process and soon they are back on the bus. Just a few minutes in which they are asked what they do for a living and what has become of their life under the Russian occupation. They check their mobile phones, check their passport and photograph their documents and their faces, according to the testimonies collected at the scene.

The Shevchenkove facility is known to locals as a "filtration camp," a term Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk refuses to accept, as it is a term used by the Russians, she says. These are "stabilization measures" that allow, within the law, to detect "enemy agents" and "groups of saboteurs," she told this newspaper this Monday in the city of Kharkov. Vereshchuk is also Minister of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, as the kyiv Executive refers to the areas of the country that are illegally in the hands of Moscow.

Russian education system

In order to entrench the occupation, the Moscow authorities had already imposed the Russian education system on the area they controlled in the Kharkov region. The course had started rolling on September 1 with an evacuation drill of the facilities in the event of an attack. Irina, a drawing and handicrafts teacher and tutor to a ninth-grade class at Kupiansk Institute Number Two, says that they had even received new books adapted to the Russian curriculum. The center was still in the hands of the same management as last year, but she says that several teachers had been transferred to Russia over the summer as part of an indoctrination process. The great Ukrainian counteroffensive ended the new course on September 8.

Irina, a 48-year-old high school teacher, collects some personal belongings before leaving her home in Kupiansk.
Irina, a 48-year-old high school teacher, collects some personal belongings before leaving her home in Kupiansk.
Luis de Vega

With the fighting still rumbling in Kupiansk, Irina, 48, made the decision last Friday to leave the city in the company of her mother, Svetlana, 69. They were evacuated along with other neighbors by volunteers in the middle of a great waterspout. of water that did not prevent fighting from continuing in the area. Already in Shevchenkove they appeared at the headquarters of the local newspaper to complete the check of the authorities, but in just a few minutes a man dressed as a soldier asked them to accompany them to the police station. There, the interrogation by the secret services lasted an hour. It focused primarily on Svetlana's role as accountant for the Kupiansk Education Delegation. She insisted on several specific names of people. “They didn't blame us for anything. Everything was correct and calm. My mother signed a protocol as a witness”, explains Irina. Both continued on their way to another region of the country.

Asked who was in charge in the occupied Kharkov area, the high school teacher gives a name without hesitation: Vitali Ganchev. He is a former official and member of the Ukrainian Security Forces who supported and was involved in the pro-Russian insurrection in the east of the country in 2014. Late in the invasion that began on February 24, he was promoted to head of the authorities of Russian occupation in Kharkov. His face is one of those that appears on the street on the "wanted" posters. But as soon as the advance of local troops succeeded and forced the Russian withdrawal, Ganchev, like other bigwigs in pro-Russian Ukraine, jumped across the border. From there, his last public appearance was last weekend on the Russian channel Rossiya-24. "I don't know anything about burials," he declared, referring to the graves that appeared with hundreds of bodies in Izium (Kharkov) after the end of the occupation by Kremlin troops.

A report denounces the Russian system of interrogations and detention in the occupied territories

The Russian authorities maintain a system of filtering, interrogation and detention of the native population in areas controlled by Ukraine that violates international law, according to a report made public at the end of August in which the American Yale University participated. Moscow invites the Ukrainians to accept the Kremlin as an authority, in fact it keeps the borders open so that they pass into Russia without any problem through those border crossings that are in the occupied zone.

The Russian authorities also use infrastructure to control the population that wants to leave the areas they maintain under occupation in Ukraine. In the Donetsk region and its surroundings alone, as many as 21 leak centers have been detected to register, interrogate and detain both civilians and military personnel considered prisoners of war, according to the investigation. The US State Department has accepted this denunciation of the abuses that Moscow is committing in Ukraine, as it has spread on its profile on the social network Twitter. This system "includes the use of extrajudicial and incommunicado detention, violates multiple points of international humanitarian law and poses multiple potentially serious human rights problems," warns the report, based on both open sources and satellite images.

One of these places would be the long-term detention center in Olenivka (Donetsk), where an attack took place at the end of July in which dozens of Ukrainians, held prisoner by the Russians, died in the Azovstal factory in the city of Mariupol. in May. In the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which make up the eastern part of the country known as Donbas, independent republics have been self-proclaimed with the support of Russia. That territory has been the scene since 2014 of a war carried out by pro-Russian militiamen and Moscow troops against the local Army.

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