Human Rights Watch would like to make three points regarding Mariupol.
First, Russian forces’ assault on Mariupol relied on attacks and tactics that resulted in indiscriminate and disproportionate civilian suffering and loss of life.
It is imperative that Russian forces be held accountable for unlawful attacks and other serious violations of international humanitarian law in the city. Documenting all such instances will take time, given the sheer numbers of strikes that took place. Access and preservation of evidence, given Russia’s occupation of the city, will be the most significant challenge to documentation. The international community should make all efforts to help preserve evidence and enable meaningful investigations and justice for serious violations.
Second, some civilians who wanted to flee Mariupol were forcibly transferred to Russia or Russia-occupied areas of Ukraine. Human Rights Watch interviewed individuals who were desperate to find safety and wanted to go to Ukraine-controlled territory. However, many had, or were made to feel they had no choice but to go to Russia or Russia-occupied areas, as Russian and Russian-linked personnel organized evacuation buses to Russia and in some cases told civilians that they had no choice. Along the way, Russia-backed armed groups and Russian security agents subjected Ukrainian citizens to a screening process, known as “filtration” that involves searching — their bodies, belongings, and phones; questioning them about their political views and contacts. Russian authorities detained those they deemed affiliated with Ukrainian forces. As part of filtration, they also captured extensive personal data and their biometrics, without providing any justification.
Russian authorities should guarantee that Ukrainian citizens transferred to Russia have unfettered access to legal, civil society, and other support services that may assist them in relocating inside or outside of Russia as they wish. Relevant international organizations should monitor border crossings and temporary reception centers in Ukraine and provide assistance to Ukrainian citizens who wish to leave Russia.
Third, some Russian public officials have stated that Ukrainian soldiers captured in Mariupol would face trial, mainly in Russia-occupied areas, for “terrorism” or other crimes. Russia should strictly abide by the Geneva Conventions, respect POW status, and ensure no soldier faces trial for engaging in combat.