- Russia forcibly relocated Ukrainian children to its most far-flung region on Friday, a Mariupol city official said.
- The 90 children were sent to Vladivostok in Russia's far east, almost 9,656 kilometres away from their homes.
- The children will be made to take Russian language classes, a local Russian politician said.
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Russia forcibly relocated 90 Ukrainian children on Friday, taking them to a Russian city thousands of kilometres away from their homes, said a Mariupol city council official on Saturday.
Peter Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol's mayor, said on Telegram that 308 Ukrainians, including the 90 children, were deported from the besieged city of Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine, to Vladivostok, Russia — some 6,596 kilometres away.
The port city of Vladivostok, in the far east of Russia, is close to the border with North Korea and China.
Mariupol citizens have been placed in dormitories and schools while they await resettlement elsewhere in the region, Andryushchenko said. "Instead of the warm Sea of Azov and the mild climate of Ukraine, [they are in] depressing regions of Russia," he wrote on Telegram.
The adviser said that the Mariupol children will be forced to learn Russian.
This is a reference to a statement made by Elvira Shamonova, the education minister for Primorsky — the region in which Vladivostok is situated. The 90 Mariupol children will have to take part in "additional classes" to help with "difficulties with the Russian language," Shamonova said, per Russian media.
A local Vladivostok media outlet confirmed that 308 Ukrainians, including 90 children, arrived in Vladivostok on Friday. The outlet described these people as "migrants," "refugees," and "internally displaced persons."
This is in line with the language that the Russian government is using. Kremlin officials have described the mass resettling of Ukrainians as voluntary evacuations.
But Ukraine's defense ministry disputes the use of such terminology, claiming that the resettlement of Ukrainians is anything but voluntary. The ministry claims that Russia is forcibly deporting Ukrainians en masse to distant parts of Russia.
A growing number of reports by media outlets and human rights groups also contradict Russia's claims.
Two women told The Guardian they were forced to leave Mariupol for Russia. A young Ukrainian woman told The Washington Post that she was transferred to what the Russians called a "filtration camp" before being sent to Russia. And a Mariupol citizen told BBC News that they were taken "forcibly" to Russia.
Liudmyla Denisova, Ukraine's ombudswoman for human rights, said last week that approximately 33,000 people have been forcibly deported from Mariupol, per Reuters. This number has not been independently verified.
Rachel Denber, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters that her organization had documented at least one instance where there was "no question that it would be considered a forced transfer."