(KYIV, Ukraine) — Ukraine accused Moscow on Thursday of forcibly taking hundreds of thousands of civilians from shattered Ukrainian cities to Russia, where some may be used as “hostages” to pressure Kyiv to give up.
Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, had been taken to Russia.
While the Kremlin provided almost identical numbers to those who were relocated, it stated they want to move to Russia. Ukraine’s rebel-controlled eastern regions are predominantly Russian-speaking, and many people there have supported close ties to Moscow.
One month after the invasion began, both sides were engaged in a bitter war of attrition. Ukraine’s navy said it sank a large Russian landing ship near the port city of Berdyansk that had been used to bring in armored vehicles. Russia claims to have seized the eastern city of Izyum following fierce fighting.
At an emergency NATO summit in Brussels, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded with the Western allies via video for planes, tanks, rockets, air defense systems and other weapons, saying his country is “defending our common values.”
The U.S. President Joe Biden was in Europe to attend the summit as well as other high-level discussions. However, it seemed unlikely that the West would provide Zelenskyy with everything he requested, fearing that he might trigger a wider conflict.
Around the capital, Kyiv, and other areas, Ukrainian defenders have fought Moscow’s ground troops to a near-stalemate, raising fears that a frustrated Russian President Vladimir Putin will resort to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
—Ukraine and Russia exchanged a total of 50 military and civilian prisoners, the largest swap reported yet, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
—The pro-Moscow leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, warned that Poland’s proposal to deploy a Western peacekeeping force in Ukraine “will mean World War III.”
—In Chernihiv, where an airstrike this week destroyed a crucial bridge, a city official, Olexander Lomako, said a “humanitarian catastrophe” is unfolding as Russian forces target food storage places. According to Lomako, there are approximately 130,000 residents still in the city under siege. This is about half of its population before war.
—Russia said it will offer safe passage starting Friday to 67 ships from 15 foreign countries that are stranded in Ukrainian ports because of the danger of shelling and mines.
Kyiv and Moscow gave conflicting accounts, meanwhile, about the people being relocated to Russia and whether they were going willingly — as Russia claimed — or were being coerced or lied to.
Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev stated that the approximately 400,000 persons who were evacuated from Russia after the beginning of military action came from Donetsk, Luhansk areas in eastern Ukraine. These regions are where pro-Moscow separatists fought for control for almost eight years.
Russian authorities stated that they will provide accommodations for the refugees and pay them.
Donetsk Region governor. Pavlo Kyrylenko said 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 said that the Russians are taking 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.
Among those taken, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry charged, were 6,000 residents of Mariupol, the devastated port city in the country’s east. Moscow’s troops are confiscating identity documents from an additional 15,000 people in a section of Mariupol under Russian control, the ministry said.
Some could be sent as far as the Pacific island of Sakhalin, Ukrainian intelligence said, and are being offered jobs on condition they don’t leave for two years. The ministry said the Russians intend to “use them as hostages and put more political pressure on Ukraine.”
Kyrylenko said that Mariupol’s residents have been long deprived of information and that the Russians feed them false claims about Ukraine’s defeats to persuade them to move to Russia.
“Russian lies may influence those who have been under the siege,” he said.
The naval attack at Berdyansk resulted in two other ships being damaged by Ukraine. A 3,000-ton fuel container was also destroyed after the sinking of the Russian Ship Orsk.
Zelenskyy encouraged the nation to maintain its military defense, in the hope that it would bring about peace.
“With every day of our defense, we are getting closer to the peace that we need so much. We are closer to victory. … We can’t stop even for a minute, for every minute determines our fate, our future, whether we will live,” he said late Thursday in his nightly video address to the nation.
Zelenskyy stated that thousands, including 128 children have been killed in the first month since the start of war. In the entire country, there were 230 schools destroyed and 155 kindergartens. Cities and villages “lie in ashes,” he said.
Russia’s stock market was reopened to allow limited trading, in order to show that Western sanctions are not bringing it down. The ban on foreigners selling was lifted, as well as the prohibition of short-selling by traders, which could lead to falling betting prices.
Many millions of Ukrainians have fled the country. Some tried to stay, while others left.
A teenage girl was standing at the entrance to a train station, her white rabbit pet rabbit in her arms, as she shivered in her arms. Her mother was waiting for her, and she was about to meet her. The only person she was traveling with, she left Dnipro to join her mother.
“At the beginning I didn’t want to leave,” she said. “Now I’m scared for my life.”
Anna reported from Lviv in Ukraine. This report was contributed by Robert Burns, an American Press writer in Washington, Yuras Karamanau in Lviv, and other Associated Press journalists all over the globe.
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