Ukraine’s Mariupol says Russia forcibly deported thousands of its residents

FILE PHOTO: A view shows a damaged apartment building in the besieged city of Mariupol
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a residential building damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 18, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File Photo

March 20, 2022

(Reuters) – The city council of Ukraine’s Mariupol said Russian forces forcibly deported several thousand people from the besieged city last week after Russia spoke of “refugees” arriving from the strategic port.

“In the past week, several thousand residents of Mariupol have been deported to Russian territory,” the council said in a statement on its Telegram channel late Saturday.

“The occupiers illegally took people from the Livoberezhniy district and from the shelter in the building of the sports club, where more than a thousand people (mostly women and children) were hiding from the constant bombing.”

Reuters could not independently verify the claims.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said buses carrying people it called refugees from Mariupol arrived in Russia on Tuesday, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported last week. The ministry was not immediately available to comment on the Mariupol City Council’s claims.

About 400,000 people have been trapped in Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov for more than two weeks because, according to local authorities, they were seeking shelter from heavy bombing raids that cut off the central supply of electricity, heating and water.

Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Saturday that 13 buses carrying more than 350 people were headed for Russia, about 50 of which were to be taken by rail to the Yaroslavl region and the rest to temporary transit centers in the port city of Taganrog, Rostov region in Russia.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said this month Russia has prepared 200 buses to “evacuate” citizens of Mariupol.

The RIA Novosti agency reported last week, citing emergency services, that nearly 300,000 people, including about 60,000 children, have arrived in Russia in recent weeks from the Luhansk and Donbass regions, including Mariupol.

The Russian Defense Ministry said this month that more than 2.6 million people in Ukraine have asked to be evacuated.

Reuters could not immediately verify these reports.

Mariupol, a key link to the Black Sea, has been a target since the war began on February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and the West say Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression.

As Russia has attempted to conquer most of Ukraine’s southern coast, Mariupol, which lies between Russia’s annexed Crimea peninsula to the west and Donetsk region to the east, which is partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists, has gained prominence.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)

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Bobby Allyn

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