Following the Russian bombing of an art school in Mariupol, where about 400 people had been taking refuge from Russian airstrikes, President Vladimir Putin and his forces are now being accused of abducting about 2,500 Ukrainian children from Donetsk and Luhansk and deporting them to Russia as refugees.
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) March 22, 2022
The bombings in Mariupol, which had been under siege since the beginning of the invasion, had been continuous as it had also targeted a local drama theater that had an estimate of 1,300 Ukrainians inside. Furthermore, the Russian forces also bombed a maternity hospital last week, which Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova defended by asserting that there were Ukrainian forces within the hospital.
They had also allegedly taken the largest hospital in Mariupol hostage, rounding up civilians from the nearby houses and putting them into said hospital. Reports indicated that the Russians had threatened to shoot those who tried to escape. However, these claims could not be independently verified.
After the bombings, the Russian forces had forcibly rounded up thousands of residents in Mariupol and sent them on their way to remote cities in Russia. Ukraine’s Human Rights Commissioner Lyudmyla Denisova claimed that these Ukrainians were “kidnapped” and transported to Taganrog, the closest Russian city from Mariupol, about 60 miles away. She also stated that Ukrainians were also transported by train to “economically depressive Russian cities.”
“Our citizens were given documents that oblige them to stay in a particular town, meaning they have no right to leave it for at least two years and they have to seek employment there,” she told journalists over at Ukraine’s Channel 24. She also admitted that they did not know what had happened to the other Ukrainians who were forcibly deported, leaving them at the hands of their Russian captors.
Mariupol’s very own mayor Vadym Boichenko compared the forced deportations to World War II atrocities where the Nazis forcibly took civilians from occupied countries and sent them to work in armaments factories or to labor camps.
“What the occupiers are doing today is familiar to the older generation, who saw the horrific events of World War II, when the Nazis forcibly captured people. It is hard to imagine that in the 21st-century, people can be forcibly taken to another country,” said Boichenko through Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun.
While there is no evidence to suggest that they were off to be killed, Denisova did say that captured Ukrainian civilians had no right to leave the Russian towns and had to seek employment there as per the Russian documents presented to them, which does imply forced labor. However, it is unknown whether the captured Ukrainians would be paid wages or not. Furthermore, it is important to remember the conditional offer the Russians made of humanitarian corridors out of Mariupol as long as the evacuation routes were into Russia.
Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun also weighed in on the issue, stating on March 20th that the Mariupol City Council told her that Mariupol citizens were forcibly “interned to filtration camps” and moved to remote villages in Russia just as Denisova had said.
“The GULAG has been restored,” she said in a tweet.
In a later tweet, she would also report that 2,389 children were removed from Donbas following the forced deportation of people in Mariupol.
#russia not only kills Ukrainian children but also kidnaps them. On March 19 alone, the #russian troops illegally removed 2,389 #Ukrainian children from the occupied territories of #Donbas.
Children are in danger, we don't know what russian Nazis will do to them.
— Inna Sovsun (@InnaSovsun) March 21, 2022
US envoy to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield described the forced deportations as “disturbing” and “unconscionable,” stating that “I’ve only heard it. I can’t confirm it.”
“But I can say it is disturbing. It is unconscionable for Russia to force Ukrainian citizens into Russia and put them in what will basically be concentration and prisoner camps,” she said.
MP and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that she was appalled at the news of Russians bombing civilians and abducting Ukrainians through a tweet:
“I am appalled by Russian atrocities in Mariupol, including attacks on schools sheltering civilians and the abduction and deportation of Ukrainians,” she said. “Putin is resorting to desperate measures as he is not achieving his objectives. Putin and his regime will be held to account.”
Russian state news agencies have reported that hundreds of people from Ukraine, which they refer to as “refugees,” were taken by bus from Mariupol to Russia. Resident Anna Iwashyna, a former resident of Mariupol who had fled to Zaporizhzhia, stated through The Guardian that they were not sure if people were being taken to Russia forcibly. At the same time, she also said, “I can say for sure nobody is going there willingly.”
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT – Ukrainian President Zelenskiy said it would not be possible to negotiate an end to the war without meeting Russian President Putin. The city of Mariupol has become a focal point of Russia's assault and lies largely in ruins https://t.co/6yCv8pYqjr pic.twitter.com/0wJKJLMQCM
— Reuters (@Reuters) March 22, 2022
It can be remembered that Mariupol had rejected the Russian demand for them to surrender in exchange for safe evacuation from the city. The Russian forces have been trying to get control of the strategic port city since the early days of the invasion as it would cut off Ukraine’s access to the sea if Odesa also falls. It would also establish a land bridge connecting mainland Russia and Crimea, making military logistics and general travel easier for Russians.
However, despite their continued bombings of Mariupol, the city refuses to fall into Russian hands. This does come at a price. The city has been described as a ghost town as 80% of housing had been destroyed, with the majority of the citizens wanting to leave the city but could not due to continued fighting.