Hundreds of Ukrainian citizens are stuck in limbo in detention centers in and around Moscow awaiting deportation interrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to business daily Kommersant reported Friday.
According to members of the Russian Presidential Council for Human Rights and its prison watchdog, at least 358 Ukrainians are being held in detention centers in Moscow as well as in the temporary detention center for migrants in the city of Sakharov. since February.
“It’s not a lot compared to hundreds of thousands of [Ukrainian] refugees,” Eva Merkacheva, a member of both organisations, told Kommersant.
“[But] we don’t know what to do next, ”she said.
Moscow and Kyiv had an agreement allowing Ukrainian citizens to serve prison sentences in their home countries after trials held in Russia, according to Merkacheva.
“Now even that mechanism has stopped,” the activist said. “So far it is easier to feed them and leave them in Russia until the end of the special military operation and the renewal of [deportation] Agreements.”
Ukrainian detainees, dozens of whom are wanted in Ukraine for serious crimes, face two years of legally mandated confinement if Russia’s war in Ukraine drags on.
Georgy Ivanov, a member of the prison watchdog of the Moscow Public Supervision Commission, told Kommersant that authorities could round up inmates again after their release.
Activists decry squalid conditions in detention centers, citing overcrowding as well as insufficient food, sanitation and medical care.
Ivanov estimates that around 200 other Ukrainian citizens are being held in detention centers near Moscow and an unknown number in St. Petersburg.
Human rights officials from Russia’s Sverdlovsk and Ulyanovsk regions confirmed that dozens of other Ukrainian citizens were being held in deportation centers. In the Nizhny Novgorod region, officials said they had had no problem deporting Ukrainians to their homeland in recent months.
Some detainees have family in Russia and are seeking to legalize their status in the country.
“They don’t want to leave at all. Some of them tried to receive asylum, but were refused,” Ivanov said.
Kommersant’s report comes amid numerous reports of Ukrainian refugees being forced into so-called “filtration camps” before being transferred to Russia.
Kyiv says Ukrainian citizens are being deported against their will, while Moscow calls the process an “evacuation”.