Welcome to Tuesday, where Russia declares victory in Mariupol as the 82-day siege ends, Biden’s administration lifts some Trump-era restrictions on Cuba and NASA’s rover starts digging around for life on Mars. Meanwhile, America Economia explains how blockchain technology could take the cannabis business to an all-time high.
Inside Russia’s revival of Stalinist “filtration camps”
Though different than concentration camps constructed by Nazis, the “filtration” facilities nevertheless are a return to another brutal history, reopened under Putin, and ramped up since the invasion of Ukraine, writes Ukrainian journalist Anna Akage.
"It was like a true concentration camp."
This is how Oleksandr, a 49-year-old man from Mariupol, described where he and his wife Olena were taken in by Russian security officers. Speaking to a reporter for the BBC, the couple was fingerprinted, photographed and interrogated for hours, and their phones searched for material that could somehow identify them as “Nazis.”
But there is another name given to these locations and the process that have been set up to handle Ukrainians taken into custody in areas occupied by pro-Russian separatists: They’re called: “filtration camps.”
Since February 24, more than one million people have passed through these facilities, facing brutal conditions, passports stripped and sometimes tortured, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said "at least several thousand" Ukrainians have been abducted and processed in the camps.
They are called filtration camps because Russian security officers use them to screen civilians, and those who do not pass the filtering process are reportedly taken to Russia or to occupied territories of Donetsk. Witnesses have told Die Welt that they saw people blindfolded and handcuffed, put on buses and driven away.
Like concentration camps constructed by Nazis, and others, the “filtration” facilities recalls a brutal history. First established by Joseph Stalin in the USSR at the end of World War II, filtration camps received all prisoners of war, prisoners of German concentration camps, all men of conscription age who during the war simply lived in the occupied territories or representatives of local authorities were sent to the camps.
Though there were some good-faith efforts to identify individuals in the immediate post-War chaos, the filtration camps would eventually include brutal interrogations, torture, years of imprisonment, and hard labor in the Gulag camps — that's what awaited those who did not prove their loyalty to the Soviet authorities.
Even before the conflict with Ukraine, there have been other revivals of filtration camps in post-Soviet times. In Chechnya, according to Russia-born human rights group Memorial, at least 200,000 people, one-sixth of Chechnya's entire population, passed through the camps, subjected to beatings, torture, and summary executions.
In Ukraine, the methodology of Soviet filtration camps began as early as 2014 in the Donbas: from the very moment of the occupation, "suspicious" citizens were summoned for interrogations, and there are many known cases where they were held for months and years in captivity, too often dying of torture and disease.
Thanks to the testimonies of people like Oleksandr and Olena who managed to break free, journalists know the details of life in these camps. Civilians are taken from bombed-out cities, after weeks in hiding, with the promise of being evacuated.
They are forced to sleep on the floor in unheated rooms, sometimes in such tight quarters that it is impossible to lie down. There is very little food and water, and no access to medical care. They are regularly tortured psychologically and physically, facing threats of reprisals against their relatives and demands to turn in their friends. Some have their passports confiscated. Families have been separated.
The filtration camps acquired a massive, organized character after the invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The existence of several camps is known in the area of the besieged port city of Mariupol, with satellite images showing that a camp with at least 30 tents was set up within a week, as well as in several cities in Donbas and Crimea.
Filtration camps are also the place from which Ukrainian citizens can voluntarily evacuate into Russian territory — though most times they are forcibly pushed to do so, with no options to evacuate to Ukrainian territories given.
Anna Voevodina, a Mariupol-born lawyer now living in Barcelona, is helping her compatriots who were brought to Russia using a Telegram group called “Deportation to Russia”, which now has around 900 members, Die Welt reports.
Those who have not proven their loyalty to the Russian authorities are at best sent to forced settlements in remote regions of Russia, while those who remain in Ukraine are forced to work on debris removal, collecting corpses, bagging them, and digging graves.
Such work is often the only opportunity for residents of the occupied territories to receive humanitarian aid for themselves and their families. Also, only after successfully passing the filtration camp can Ukrainians receive passes that allow them to move around the city or region, reports Ukraine’s daily Livy Bereg.
Fear is spreading for those “judged to have an allegiance” to Ukraine, said U.S. Ambassador Carpenter referring to reports indicating that people were transferred to Russian-occupied territories in Donbas, and their traces often lost.
Russia under Putin looks more and more like the Soviet Union under Stalin, and one might be horrified, but not necessarily surprised. The manual for persecution and human control was always right on the shelf.
• Mariupol siege is over: After 82 days of siege, Russia announces it has taken full control of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, effectively marking the fall of the strategic southern port city for Ukraine. Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians had been trapped in dire conditions in the complex since early March, with troops loyal to Kyiv refusing to surrender or abandon the last piece of territory under their control.
• Finland & Sweden in NATO? It gets complicated: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a longstanding NATO member, came out strongly against Sweden and Finland joining NATO, while Russian President Vladimir Putin now says he’s OK with it.
— Read all the latest at War in Ukraine, Day 83 —
• Tripoli clashes: The Libyan government, led by Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha and appointed by the eastern Parliament, announced it retreated from the capital city Tripoli. Earlier this day, clashes erupted in the city center, triggered by their arrival in the capital, where a rival administration refuses to step down.
• Cuba sanctions eased: U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced it would lift sanctions on Cuba imposed during the Trump era, making it easier for people to travel, families to reunite and for Cubans to get U.S. visas faster.
• France gets first female Prime Minister in decades: Cabinet minister Elizabeth Borne has been appointed as the new French prime minister by President Emmanuel Macron. An engineer, Borne previously served as Macron’s Minister for Transport, then Environment and finally Labor. It is only the second time a woman will hold this position in the country since Edith Cresson, 31 years ago. Upcoming parliamentary elections could force Macron to appoint an opposition politician to the prime minister post.
• Spate of Belgrade bomb threats: Serbia’s capital city Belgrade was targetted by hundreds of bomb threats yesterday, mainly sent to schools, restaurants and shopping centers. No explosive devices were found and the origin of the threats is still unknown. First Deputy Prime Minister Branko Ružić said the issue “should not be taken lightly.”
• Cannes film festival kicks off: The 75th Cannes Film Festival opens today and will run until May 28. American actor Forest Whitaker is expected to receive an honorary Palme d'Or at the opening ceremony.
Danish tabloid Ekstrabladet pays tribute to Sydney Lee, one of Denmark’s first and most famous reality TV stars, who died at age 43 from undisclosed causes. Recognizable for his signature bandana and tan, Lee held the Danish National Record for most appearances on reality TV shows.
NASA's Perseverance rover will begin today its key mission of exploring the Mars crater where it landed in February last year. Named Jezero (meaning “lake” in Slavic languages), the crater features a delta-like formation that is thought to have held water billions of years ago, and is most likely to contain evidence of past life on the red planet.
Crypto and cannabis, best buds at last
As cannabis is legalized in more places, investors are taking note. One Luxembourg-based, Uruguayan-led fund has found an innovative way to bypass banking obstacles and raise capital, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.
🔗 It will soon be possible to buy shares in a fund that invests in the nascent cannabis industry, on Ethereum, a blockchain portal. The fund is Global Cannabis Capital (GCC), formed in Luxembourg and soon to offer shares as tokens (digital value units representing the value of a stock), instead of the traditional initial public offering (IPO). GCC's founder is the Uruguayan Andrés Israel, also CEO and founder of Cannabis Company Builder, an incubator that helps Latin American startups devise a business strategy for the cannabis sector.
💸 The first sale, scheduled for early June, is a private placement, so GCC could not reveal the price of a token or the sums expected to be raised. But investors were showing keen interest. "Before this we held a pre-sale in which all our tokens were sold in 10 days. This is highly auspicious, as we expected to end the pre-sale in June," Israel said. Some 50 investors bought all available tokens and for 80% of them, this was their first investment in a cryptocurrency or in digital assets.
📈 Using tokens or crypto-assets is an increasingly common way of raising capital in the cannabis sector. In addition to legal restrictions on cannabis in many countries, which hinders public listings or more traditional fundraising, many actors in the sector see blockchain technology as a faster financing instrument. For buyers, says Israel, tokens also open the way to a secondary market for resale, giving their assets liquidity.➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
“The next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives.”
— Sri Lanka’s new prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe addressed the population amid the country’s worst economic crisis in more than 70 years. The COVID-19 pandemic, rising fuel prices and a foreign currency default have caused shortages of essential products including food, fuel and medicines on the island. "At the moment, we only have petrol stocks for a single day,” Wickremesinghe said during his speech on national television.
People walk by a mall destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin, Ukraine. More than 300 civilians died in this city close to Kyiv. A month after the Russian troops’ withdrawal, its inhabitants are gradually returning to their devastated homes. — Photo: Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA Images/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger
Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!