Mariupol says 15,000 deported from besieged city to Russia

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LVIV, Ukraine, March 24 (Reuters) – Ukrainian authorities in besieged Mariupol said on Thursday about 15,000 civilians had been illegally deported to Russia since Russian forces seized parts of the southern port city.

Ukrainian officials say civilians trapped in Mariupol, which is normally home to about 400,000 people, face a desperate plight without access to food, water, power or heat.

Local authorities said on Sunday that thousands of residents had been taken by force across the border but did not provide a more precise figure. Russian news agencies said at the time that buses had carried several hundred people Moscow calls refugees from Mariupol to Russia in recent days.

“Residents of the Left Bank district are beginning to be deported en masse to Russia. In total, about 15,000 Mariupol residents have been subjected to illegal deportation,” Mariupol city council said in a statement issued on Thursday.

People take part in the Light for Mariupol peace rally for people who died during a shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, in front of the National Theatre building in Prague, Czech Republic. People created a large luminous sign, which means ‘children’ in Russian, the same sign that was meant to protect the theatre in Mariupol against a bomb attack. At least 30 people were killed and about 100 others injured during this large-scale attack. EPA-EFE/MARTIN DIVISEK

Russia denies targeting civilians in what President Vladimir Putin calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and the West say Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told a video briefing that Ukrainian authorities were continuing efforts to secure agreement from Russia to open a safe corridor to and from Mariupol.

Each side has blamed the other for the repeated failure to agree on arrangements to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, control of which would help Russia secure a land corridor to the Crimea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address to Italy’s parliament on Tuesday that there was “nothing left” in Mariupol after weeks of Russian bombardment.

A Reuters team that reached a Russian-controlled part of Mariupol on Sunday described a wasteland of charred apartment blocks and bodies wrapped in blankets lying by a road.

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