Moscow has sent 500,000 Ukrainians forcibly to Russia, EU told

Published April 21, 2022
A RUSSIAN serviceman stands guard as evacuees wait before boarding a bus to leave Mariupol.—Reuters
A RUSSIAN serviceman stands guard as evacuees wait before boarding a bus to leave Mariupol.—Reuters

BRUSSELS: Moscow has deported 500,000 people from Ukraine to Russia, a leading member of the parliament in Kyiv told European lawmakers on Wednesday, calling on the Red Cross to establish contact with those missing.

“Half a million of Ukrainian citizens were deported from Ukraine to the Russian Federation without agreement from their side,” said Mykyta Poturayev, the head of the Ukrainian parliament’s humanitarian committee.

This news agency could not independently verify the figure given by Poturayev, who did not give details or supporting evidence. “Unfortunately there is no opportunity for now even (to make) contact with these people,” Poturayev told members of the European Parliament by video link.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions, which define international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in conflict, prohibit mass forcible transfers of civilians during a conflict to the territory of the occupying power, classifying it as a war crime.

Moscow has denied intentionally targeting civilians since invading Ukraine on Feb 24 in what it calls a special military operation and says it is offering humanitarian aid to those wanting to leave. A Russian government resolution on March 12 listed the whereabouts of 95,909 people across Russia who had left Ukraine, including the two breakaway regions Moscow has declared as independent entities.

A month later, the Russian military said it had rescued 138,014 civilians from Mariupol, as fighting intensified in the besieged city. Poturayev said he was concerned about the fate of those Ukrainians he says were sent to Russia.

“We know about so-called filtration camps for Ukrainian citizens,” he said. “That’s one of the possible directions of Red Cross activity, at least to find these deported people and to understand what is going (on) with them on the territory of the Russian Federation.” Alexandra Boivin, an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said her organisation was talking to Russian authorities about possibilities to help these people.

“The question about whether we can confirm that people were forcibly displaced at this moment is one that I cannot answer ... but it’s certainly an issue of concern,” she told the European Parliament’s debate.

New surrender deadline

Russia has been trying to take full control of Mariupol since the war’s first days. Its capture would be a big strategic prize, linking territory held by pro-Russian separatists in the east with the Crimea region that Moscow annexed in 2014.

Russia gave Ukrainian fighters holding out in Mariupol a new ultimatum to surrender by Wednesday afternoon as it pushed for a decisive victory in its offensive in the east, while Western governments promised to give Ukraine more military help. Thousands of Russian troops backed by artillery and rocket barrages were attempting to advance in what Ukrainian officials have called the Battle of the Donbas — a final push by Moscow to seize two eastern provinces it claims on behalf of separatists.

But not a single Ukrainian soldier had laid down their weapons after an ultimatum to surrender lapsed on Tuesday, Russia’s defence ministry said. It announced a new deadline of 2pm on Wednesday for defenders to lay down arms. Ukraine has vowed never to surrender in Mariupol and its general staff said fighting was continuing at the plant.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2022

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