Ukraine on Thursday accused Moscow of forcibly taking hundreds of thousands of civilians from destroyed Ukrainian towns to Russia, where some could be used as “hostages” to pressure kyiv to back down.
Lyudmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian ombudsman, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, were taken against their will to Russia, and some reported food and water shortages there.
The Kremlin gave nearly identical numbers for those who were relocated, but said they wanted to go to Russia. The rebel-held eastern parts of the country, for example, are overwhelmingly Russian-speaking, and many people there have maintained close ties to Moscow.
A month into the invasion, the two sides traded blows in what became a devastating war of attrition. The Ukrainian Navy said it sank the Orsk, a large landing ship near the port city of Berdyansk which had been used to supply Russian forces with armored vehicles. Russia claimed to have taken the eastern city of Izyum after heavy fighting.
At an emergency NATO summit in Brussels, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded with Western allies via video for planes, tanks, rockets, air defense systems and other weapons, saying that his country “defended our common values”. US President Joe Biden, in Europe for a series of summits, has assured that more aid is on the way, although the West seems unlikely to give Zelensky all he wants for fear of triggering a much larger war.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said alliance leaders had agreed to send equipment to help protect Ukraine from chemical attacks. Around the capital, Kyiv, and other areas, Ukrainian defenders appear to have fought Moscow’s ground troops to a stalemate, raising fears that a frustrated Russian President, Vladimir Putin, may resort to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
Competing accounts of offshoring
Meanwhile, Kyiv and Moscow have given conflicting accounts of those transferred to Russia and whether they were voluntarily moved.
Russian Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev said on Thursday that the nearly 400,000 people taken to Russia since the military action began had been evacuated from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine, where pro-separatists -Moscow have been fighting for control for nearly eight years. .
Russian authorities said they were providing accommodation and making payments to evacuees.
But Donetsk region governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said “people are being forcibly moved into the territory of the aggressor state.” Denisova said among those returned by Russian troops was a 92-year-old woman from Mariupol who was forced to travel to Taganrog in southern Russia.
Ukrainian officials said the Russians were taking Ukrainians’ passports and moving them to “filtration camps” in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine before sending them to various remote and economically depressed regions of Russia.
Among those arrested, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry charged, were 6,000 residents of the devastated port city of Mariupol. Russian troops are confiscating the identity documents of another 15,000 people in a Russian-controlled section of Mariupol, the ministry said.
Some could be sent to the island of Sakhalin in the Pacific Ocean, Ukrainian intelligence services have said, and are offered jobs on the condition that they do not leave for two years. The ministry said the Russians intended to “use them as hostages and exert more political pressure on Ukraine”.
Kyrylenko said residents of Mariupol had been deprived of information for a long time and the Russians had given them false statements about Ukraine’s defeats to persuade them to move to Russia.
“Russian lies can influence those who have been besieged,” he said.
As for the naval attack on Berdyansk, Ukraine claimed that two other ships were damaged and that a 2,700-tonne fuel tank was destroyed when the Orsk sank, causing a fire that spread to nearby ammo stashes.