UN calls on Russia and Ukraine to investigate POW abuse videos

Ukrainian officials have accused the Russian government of engaging in a policy of deportation, moving civilians – including thousands of children – to Russia against their will and holding them ‘like souls for an exchange fund’. “.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that more than 2,000 children had been “stolen” from the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, which has come under sustained Russian attack since the early days of the invasion.

Calling the situation in the city a “humanitarian catastrophe”, Zelensky told a group of independent Russian journalists that “according to our information, more than two thousand children have been taken away. This means stolen”.

“Their exact location is unknown. They may be there with or without relatives,” Zelensky said. “All in all, it’s a disaster. I can’t tell you what it’s like at all. It’s scary. They’re holding them like souls for an exchange fund.”

Ukrainian officials have made similar statements regarding other regions. CNN cannot independently verify claims about the number of children taken from Mariupol and other cities to Russia.

What was claimed? The Russian Defense Ministry first said on March 20 that 16,434 people, including 2,389 children, had been evacuated from various locations the previous day. Those sites included the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, according to the ministry, which said the people left of their own free will.

But the next day, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said the same number of children had in fact been forcibly evacuated from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by Russian forces. “Such actions constitute a flagrant violation of international law, in particular international humanitarian law,” the ministry said.

Since then, Ukrainian estimates of the number of people deported to Russia have increased.

On Saturday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Ukrainian government estimated that nearly 40,000 Ukrainians had been forcibly deported to Russia since the invasion.

These claims were reinforced by Denis Pushilin, the leader of the pro-Russian People’s Republic of Donetsk, who said on Sunday that around 1,700 people were “evacuated” daily from the beleaguered Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and other towns.

“On average, about 1,700 people arrive at the temporary accommodation center in Volodar for evacuees every day and, in turn, the same number of people leave it,” Pushilin said in a statement on Telegram, referring to a settlement known in Ukrainian as Nikolske, about 13 miles northwest of Mariupol.

“Residents of Mariupol and other settlements which are being liberated from the occupation of the kyiv regime are coming here,” Pushilin said. “People are given basic necessities, medical care, and then evacuated to the Russian Federation.”

Debate on the office of the Red Cross: Amid disputes over alleged Russian policy, there have also been squabbles over the role of the Red Cross humanitarian network.

On Friday, Vereshchuk accused the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, of taking a “very questionable decision” to open an office in Rostov – which is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) ) from the border with Ukraine. Such an office “legitimized” deportations from Russia, she suggested.

The Red Cross issued a statement denying these allegations. The ICRC, which usually keeps a low-key public profile, responded to what it said were “false reports circulating online” that it was helping Russia move tens of thousands of people out of the country.

He said he had no office in Rostov but was “strengthening our regional organization to be able to respond to needs where we see them. Our priority is to ensure that a steady supply of life-saving aid reaches people , wherever they are”.

CNN’s Nathan Hodge, Andrew Carey and Olga Voitovych contributed reporting.

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