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Ukraine accused Moscow on Thursday of forcibly relocating hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians from their besieged homes to Russia, where officials believe many will be held as “hostages” to negotiate a surrender from Kyiv.
Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people – including 84,000 children – have been deported against their will.
Russia gave nearly identical figures of those that have been relocated, though claimed that the people wanted to leave. Russian Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev on Thursday said that the roughly 400,000 people evacuated to Russia since the invasion began were from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, which are predominantly Russian-speaking and have close cultural ties with Moscow.
Russian authorities said they are providing accommodations and dispensing payments to the evacuees.
Donetsk Region Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko, however, claimed that “people are being forcibly moved into the territory of the aggressor state.”
Denisova said those removed by Russian troops included a 92-year-old woman in Mariupol who was forced to go to Taganrog in southern Russia.
Ukrainian officials accused Russians of seizing people’s passports and moving them to “filtration camps” in Ukraine’s separatist-controlled east before sending them to various distant, economically depressed areas in Russia.
Some could be sent as far as the Pacific island of Sakhalin north of Japan, Ukrainian intelligence said. Those taken are being offered jobs on the condition they don’t leave for two years.
Ukrainian authorities in Mariupol said on Thursday that about 15,000 civilians had been illegally relocated since Russian forces seized control of parts of the embattled southern port city. The city, which has a population of 400,000 in peace time, has seen some of the worst fighting of the war. Ukrainian officials say the situation for civilians in the city is dire without access to food, water, power or heat.
Russian media reported that buses had carried several hundred people the Kremlin called refugees from Mariupol to Russia in recent days.
Kyrylenko said that Mariupol’s residents had been fed false claims about Ukraine’s defeats by Russian forces to persuade them to move to Russia.
Now a month into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, the Ukrainian military has put up a surprisingly fierce resistance against the Russians, stalling their offensive.
The sides continue to trade heavy blows in the fighting. Ukraine’s navy said it sank a large Russian landing ship near the port city of Berdyansk that had been used to land armored vehicles. Russia claimed to have taken the eastern town of Izyum after fierce fighting.
At an emergency NATO summit in Brussels Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again pleaded with the Western allies via video call for planes, tanks, rockets, air defense systems and other weapons, saying his country is “defending our common values.”
President Joe Biden, who attended the summit and plans to travel to Poland Friday, assured Zelensky that more aid is on its way. It’s unlikely, however, Ukraine will get everything it wants as western allies fear escalating the war.
Ukrainian troops have halted the Russian advance outside of the capital of Kyiv and other areas, raising fears that a frustrated Putin will resort to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
A Kremlin spokesman warned on Wednesday that Russia could use nukes if Putin suspects an “existential threat.”
With Post Wires