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Russian soldier sentenced to life in prison in first war crimes trial of Ukraine war

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Civilians evacuated from Mariupol arrive at the Russian filtration camp in Bezimenne in eastern Ukraine on May 1.
Civilians evacuated from Mariupol arrive at the Russian filtration camp in Bezimenne in eastern Ukraine on May 1. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

“What would happen if we cut off your ear?” the soldiers asked Oleksandr Vdovychenko. Then they hit him in the head.

The punches kept coming whenever his interrogators — a mixture of Russian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists — didn’t like his answers, he later told his family.

The men asked about his politics, his future plans, his views on the war. They checked his documents, took his fingerprints and stripped him to check if he had any nationalist tattoos or marks caused by wearing or carrying military equipment.

“They were trying to beat something out of him,” his daughter Maria Vdovychenko told CNN in an interview.

Maria said her father received so many blows to his head during the interrogation last month that several medical examinations have now confirmed his sight has been permanently damaged.

Yet Oleksandr was one of the lucky ones. He made it through “filtration.”

When Russian troops first started taking over villages and towns in eastern Ukraine in early March, following their invasion of the country, evidence began to emerge of civilians being forced to undergo humiliating identity checks and often violent questioning before being allowed to leave their homes and travel to areas still under Ukrainian control.

Three months into the war, the dehumanizing process known as filtration has become part of the reality of life under Russian occupation.

CNN spoke to a number of Ukrainians who have gone through the filtration process over the last two months. Many are too scared to speak publicly, fearing for the safety of relatives and friends who are still trying to escape Russian-held areas.

All of the people CNN spoke to have described facing threats and humiliation during the process. Many have witnessed or know of people who have been picked up by Russian troops or separatist soldiers and subsequently disappeared without a trace.

Read more:

Ukrainians must endure a brutal 'filtration' process to escape Russian-held territory. Here's what that means

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