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Ukrainians are being taken against their will into Russia, the U.S. has said, with some reports suggesting more than 1 million have been taken – including a mother who was separated from her four-year-old daughter.
A senior defence official said Tuesday that the Pentagon has seen indications that Ukrainians caught up in Russia’s invasion are being forcibly removed from their homeland and sent across the border by Vladimir Putin’s forces.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that camps were involved in the process.
‘I can’t speak to how many camps or what they look like,’ Kirby told reporters. ‘But we do have indications that Ukrainians are being taken against their will into Russia.’
‘But we do have indications that Ukrainians are being taken against their will into Russia,’ Kirby said. He called these actions ‘unconscionable’ and ‘not the behavior of a responsible power.’
The deportation of Ukrainians from their own nation – often to isolated or economically depressed regions of Russia, according to Kyiv – is another indication that Putin ‘simply won’t accept and respect Ukrainian sovereignty.’
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said back in early April, six weeks after Russia launched its deadly invasion, that thousands of Ukrainians had been sent to Russian territory.
But that figure has since ballooned to more than 1.19 million, including at least 200,000 children, Ukraine’s ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said.
Kirby stopped short of describing the deportations as ethnic cleansing, stressing it was not the Pentagon’s place to make such determinations. But he said there was abundant evidence of ‘Russian brutality’ during the war.
Moscow has had ’75 days of brutalizing the nation of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,’ he said. ‘And every time you think they just can’t fall to a new low, they prove you wrong.’
Civilians who have escaped the besieged city of Mariupol have described passing through Russian ‘filtration’ sites.
There, several evacuees told AFP news agency they had been questioned, strip-searched, fingerprinted, and had their phones and documents checked.
Ukrainians are demanding the release of the mother of a young girl who they say was snatched by Russian troops during the evacuation from the vast plant. Pictured left: Military doctor Victoria Obidina, who was allegedly taken by Russian soldiers during an evacuation on Sunday, May 8. Her daughter is shown right while the family was sheltering in Mariupol steel works
US defence official John Kirby (pictured today) said Tuesday that the Pentagon has seen indications that Ukrainians caught up in Russia’s invasion are being forcibly removed from their homeland and sent across the border by Vladimir Putin’s forces
‘They asked us if we wanted to go to Russia… or stay and rebuild the city of Mariupol,’ said Natalia – an evacuee from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel works.
‘But how can I rebuild it? How can I return there if the city of Mariupol doesn’t exist anymore?’ she said. Natalia asked that her full name be kept private.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians are demanding the release of the mother of a young girl who they say was snatched by Russian troops during the evacuation from the vast plant.
Military doctor Victoria Obidina was allegedly taken by Russian soldiers during an evacuation on Sunday, May 8.
Her four-year-old daughter is said to be safe, and is being looked after by a Ukrainian family from Zaporizhzhia for the time being. The youngster was separated from her mother as Ukrainians celebrated Mother’s Day.
Victoria’s capture was reported by the Azov Regiment, which said: ‘The mother remained in a filtration camp on the territory of the so-called DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic].
‘Only the child arrived at the destination in Zaporizhzhia today, on Mother’s Day, the mother’s whereabouts are currently unknown!’
Ukrainian media believe the mother is being held in a so-called ‘filtration camp’ in Mangush, which is under the administration of the pro-Russia DPR.
The girl was found to be traveling on the evacuation bus to Zaporizhzhia alone.
After the story was shared widely on social media, Ukrainian netizens have been calling for the mother’s immediate release.
Alice was already known among her fellow compatriots following a widely-viewed video showing her hiding with her mum in a bunker under the steelworks.
At the time of the recording, the pair had been holed up there for over a month, and Alice said in the video that she wanted to go home.
People evacuated from Mariupol arrive on buses at a registration and processing area for internally displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, on May 8, 2022
Depleted Ukrainian forces are currently bracing to defend the steelworks – their final bastion in the devastated city. Civilians who had been sheltering there have now been evacuated from Azovstal, witnesses said.
An AFP reporter in the city of said Sunday that eight buses carrying 174 civilians – including 40 evacuated from Azovstal – had arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city.
‘The latest information that I have from both Ukraine and Russia is that there are no more civilians there (Azovstal), but we are not in a position to verify. We weren’t inside the plant,’ Osnat Lubrani, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine, said.
More than 600 civilians have now been safely evacuated from the steelworks and other areas of Mariupol, the UN said. This leaves a small force of defenders holed up in Azovstal’s sprawling network of tunnels and bunkers.
‘We hoped everyday for an evacuation,’ said Vladymyr Babeush, 41, an Azovstal evacuee who worked at the plant and was among those who arrived in Zaporizhzhia. ‘And now we are done waiting. We’re so thankful to everyone involved.’
‘I’m very tired. I was in the bus for about 17 hours. But I feel happy because there’s fresh air and I’m in Ukraine,’ said 17-year-old Azovstal evacuee Dmytro, who was wearing one of the plant’s workers uniforms.
The complex – the final pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the city – has taken on symbolic value. Full control of Mariupol would allow Moscow to create a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and eastern regions run by pro-Russian separatists.
In one of those regions, Lugansk, Ukrainian forces are now mounting a last-ditch defence of Severodonetsk, formerly an industrial city of 100,000 people.
Lugansk region governor Sergiy Gaiday said rescuers in Bilogorivka were searching for survivors in the debris left by the Russian attack on the school there, though the outlook was bleak.
‘Bombs fell on the school,’ he said on Telegram, ‘and unfortunately it was completely destroyed.’
A view shows an explosion at a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 8, 2022
This satellite image taken by Planet Labs PBC shows damage at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, May 6, 2022
Vladimir Putin had no victories in Ukraine to proclaim on Russia’s Victory Day on Monday. Nor did his speech at the Red Square military parade offer any clear pictures of when a victory may come or how it would be achieved.
Instead, the Russian president’s address Monday seemed to suggest that the war that many expected would be brief and decisive could be a long and brutal grind.
Victory Day commemorates another campaign of grisly determination: the Red Army’s offensive against Nazi forces that eventually brought the Soviet troops to Berlin, ending the European theater of World War II.
The suffering was immense on the battlefield and among civilians; the Soviet Union lost 27 million people in the war.
The pain of all the deaths combines with the defeat of odious opponents to give Victory Day a deep emotional resonance in Russia.
Putin on Monday tried to portray the war in Ukraine as having the same high moral purpose as the fight against Adolf Hitler’s forces.
He repeated his frequent contention that Ukraine is in thrall to Nazism and that this war, too, is necessary to repel a malign aggressor – even though Ukraine had made no incursions into Russia and is led by a president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.
The strategy appears aimed in part at diverting attention from Russia’s failure to overcome the smaller Ukrainian military.
‘The regime has no more screws to turn. The brakes have clearly failed, and only one pedal is left: conflating what Russia is doing in Ukraine with the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany.
‘This explains why the Kremlin continues to insist that in Ukraine it is fighting neo-Nazis cultivated by the West,’ Andrei Kolesnikov, a fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote shortly before Victory Day.
A child and her family who fled from Mariupol arrive at a reception center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Sunday, May 8, 2022
‘Every word is a lie, of course,’ he added, ‘but the regime has no other justification for what is happening in Ukraine. So the discourse has been reduced to agitprop and shouting,’
Ahead of the holiday, expectations were wide that Putin would push for at least one unequivocal military success that he could flaunt in his speech.
That might have been the city of Mariupol, but despite Russian forces laying waste to the city, a determined Ukrainian contingent still puts up resistance while holed up in a steel mill.
Some speculated that recent explosions in Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria, where Russia has about 1,500 troops based, could be provocations to justify Russia trying to take control of that area by Victory Day.
But Russia has only bombed a railway bridge in Ukraine that is the main transport link to Transnistria.
The most intense speculation was that Putin would use Victory Day to declare the fight in Ukraine was a full-fledged war, rather than a ‘special military operation’ as the Kremlin insists it be called, and that this would prompt a general mobilization to bring in vast numbers of new soldiers. But he did not do that either.
‘There seems an awareness of the political risks at home of national mobilization. So there is a real sense in which the Kremlin is faced with growing difficulties and dilemmas in this war that it has chosen to unleash,’ Nigel Gould-Davies, a fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told The Associated Press.
In any case, announcing a national mobilization would not foretell a swift end to the war.
‘Mobilization isn’t like a button you press and then suddenly Russia has more access to military power than before. It takes time to mobilize and not just to call up, but to conscript the population essentially, but also to supply them as well. And so it wouldn’t make any immediate difference,’ Gould-Davies said.