According to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk, some 40,000 civilians have already been relocated to Russian-occupied territory without the Ukrainian government having a say. Satellite images show a temporary camp with about 5,000 people east of the city.
Five minutes to evacuate
From occupied Ukrainian territories, civilians are being taken further into Russia, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said. On Facebook, the ministry reports that Ukrainians are sent to “economically disadvantaged areas”. “A number of northern regions are mentioned as final destinations, in particular Sakhalin.” This island is located in the north of Japan, about seven thousand kilometers from Mariupol as the crow flies.
“We were all taken away by force,” said a refugee from Mariupol, who is now thought to be in Russia. at the BBC† The city’s deputy mayor, Serhiy Orlov, told British public television that Russian soldiers went to civilian shelters to urge them to be evacuated by the Russian military.
According to Orlov, the Russian soldiers told the inhabitants of Mariupol: “Look, you have five minutes to evacuate”. If residents traveled a few kilometers in their designated direction, they automatically joined the buses that took them to Russian-held territory. “If you don’t go, this house will be bombed in an hour,” Orlov said.
Once in Russia, Ukrainian citizens will be offered a place to work, according to the Defense Ministry. “Those who accept will receive documents prohibiting them from leaving Russian regions for two years,” the ministry said on Facebook.
Red Cross review
The Ukrainian authorities themselves tried in vain last weekend to help civilians in need to escape from Mariupol. Refugees from the port city could be picked up in Berdyansk, a place a few dozen kilometers west of Mariupol. According to Deputy Prime Minister Vereshchuk, a bus convoy was waiting there to take people to safer areas. Those who managed to get out of Mariupol by car could refuel for free in Berdyansk, Vereshchuk said in a video message from Kyiv.
Ukraine accuses the Red Cross of legitimizing deportations by the Russian military with their help. The international aid agency’s plan to open an office in Rostov-on-Don, a Russian city a few hours’ drive from Mariupol, has been particularly criticized. Ukraine has now asked the Red Cross to relinquish the office.
The Red Cross itself denies all the charges. The aid organization is said to have only assisted in two evacuations from the northern Ukrainian city of Sumy to another Ukrainian-controlled area. “We will not support any operation that goes against the will of civilians and against our principles,” the Red Cross said.
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