Putin sends more than 90,000 Ukrainians to remote locations – including the Arctic Circle

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Russian President Vladimir Putin made an emergency order last month to move nearly 100,000 people from Ukraine to remote regions of Russia, according to a government decree published on a Kremlin website. Ukrainians are being moved to far-flung regions including Siberia, the North Caucasus, the Far East and even the Arctic Circle, the document states, as refugees report being interrogated by Putin’s troops and forced onto buses transporting them away from Ukraine.

Ukrainians are also being sent to the heavily militarised republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, where Russia has fought insurgencies.

Other destinations include the Sakhalin oblast in the Far East, which contains the Kuril Islands located north of Japan in the Pacific Ocean, the Arctic port of Murmansk, and Magadan on Russia’s east coast.

No Ukrainian refugees are being sent to Russia’s major cities of Moscow or St Petersburg, according to the decree seen by i.

The Kremlin document said that, “taking into account the current situation” in Ukraine, the Government “approves the distribution” of citizens of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as stateless persons to the “constituent entities of the Russian Federation”.

It said that the areas should “ensure the reception” of 95,739 people. The decree includes provisions to send 11,398 people to Siberia, 7,218 to the Far East and 7,023 to the North Caucasus.

Regions must also send an update on arrivals to Moscow each month.

The news comes following reports of Ukrainians being forcibly moved from Ukraine into areas controlled by Russia.

The mayor of the heavily besieged city of Mariupol has claimed that tens of thousands of people are being abducted and moved against their will through Russia-controlled filtration camps, including women and children.

A camp for Ukrainians was discovered last month at Bezimenne, 11 miles east of Mariupol, where people reported being interrogated by Russian soldiers before being forced onto buses and taken across the Russian border.

Satellite images from the coastal village, which lies in separatist-controlled Donetsk, showed rows of blue and white tents in a hastily erected camp.

The images suggested that Russia may be constructing “filtration” camps inside Ukraine as it has done previously in the republic of Chechnya.

Mariupol’s mayor Vadim Boychenko said last month that Russian troops were forcing Ukrainians onto buses, confiscating their passports and deporting them to these camps.

He said that they were then being distributed to destinations in Russia.

There have also been reports of people from Mariupol being handed papers to sign claiming Ukrainian troops shelled the city rather than Russian forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also accused Russia of deporting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to filtration camps.

The leader said this week that citizens had been deported to Russia-controlled areas and had their documents confiscated.

He told Channel 24: “They are placed in special filtration camps, documents are confiscated, and humiliated. How many of them are killed is unknown.”

Ukraine has previously suggested that some abducted Ukrainians may be used as “hostages” to pressure Kyiv to give up. 

Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson for human rights, said on 25 March that some 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, had already been taken to Russia.

The chilling reports came soon after the US ambassador to the United Nations warned that there was “credible and disturbing information” that Russian forces were creating lists of Ukrainians to be sent to camps or killed.

The UN refugee agency said it had seen media reports about people abducted and taken to camps but could not confirm or verify them at present.

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The reports have raised alarm among international rights groups who have accused Russia of violating international human rights law, which prohibits forcible transfers and deportations of protected people from occupied territories.

The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, has denied the accusations, claiming “such reports are lies”.

Russian officials have previously said 420,000 people have been voluntarily evacuated to Russia “from dangerous regions of Ukraine and the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics”.

“Filtration” camps have been used by Russia in the past for military or other officials to check and sort people before sending them elsewhere.

Russia faced international condemnation after the war in Chechnya in the 1990s over its use of such camps, with human rights groups reporting that up to 200,000 people were detained, beaten and tortured.

There are fears that Putin could be trying to use Ukrainians to fight Russia’s historic depopulation crisis, with the Covid pandemic, low birth rates and poor life expectancy causing the worst population decline since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin has previously said he is “haunted” by Russia’s shrinking population and has vowed to reverse the decline.

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