Vladimir Putin has sent almost 100,000 Ukrainian refugees thousands of miles away from their home, to resettle in remote corners of Russia, including Siberia and the Arctic Circle, according to Kremlin documents.
Moscow made the emergency order last month to move 95,739 people of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Donetsk, and Lugansk away from the war zones to be resettled as far as 5,500 miles away from their homes, the Kremlin decree seen by The i stated.
It comes amid several reports that Russian forces have allegedly forcibly disappeared, held captive or interrogated people in Ukrainian towns since Mr Putin’s invasion of the country on 24 February.
The decree stated that “taking into account the current situation” in Ukraine, the Russian federation “approves the distribution” of citizens to the “constituent entities of the Russian Federation” and asked authorities to “ensure the reception” of 95,739 people.
It included provisions to send 11,398 people to Siberia, 7,218 to the Far East and 7,023 to the North Caucasus, including other regions such as the heavily-militarised republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Citing separate documents, the report added that people in the port city of Mariupol were being asked to sign papers that claimed Ukrainian troops shelled their city. The signatories were reportedly told they cannot return to Ukraine because they will face “persecution”.
The number of Ukrainians that have been internally displaced has reached over 7.1 million since the invasion of the country, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
Sima Bahous, director of UN Women, said the “mass displacement with the large presence of conscripts and mercenaries, and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians, has raised all red flags”.
Demanding an end to the war, she said: “We are increasingly hearing of rape and sexual violence. These allegations must be independently investigated to ensure justice and accountability.”
Meanwhile, an eight-mile convoy of Russian troops seen in satellite imagery heading towards Ukraine’s Donbas region is the latest evidence to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s claim that Russia is preparing for renewed attacks.
Mr Zelensky said Russia’s war on Ukraine could be entering a “new stage of terror” citing threats from the use of chemical weapons in the besieged city of Mariupol. The Ukrainian parliament also said that it received reports of Russian forces firing “nitric acid” in the Donetsk region.
It follows inputs from British intelligence on Monday that warned of the potential use of phosphorous by Russian forces in Mariupol.
The US Defence Department has said they are monitoring the unconfirmed reports of the use of chemical munitions.
“These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered.