Some residents of Mariupol, Ukraine’s destroyed city, who managed to flee, claim they were forced to fly to Russia in what the Kyiv government refers to as “deportations.”

Tetiana left Mariupol to try to save her nine-year-old daughter after spending weeks in a Mariupol basement following the loss of her father, who was killed in a rocket attack.

She took advantage of a gap in the shelling to travel to a meeting point set up by pro-Russian officials to find out about ways out, as she had no mobile network or other means of communication.

She was told that the only choice was to travel to Russia.

“We were taken aback. We didn’t want to go to Russia,” the 38-year-old accountant said over the phone from Riga, Latvia, where she and her family have taken asylum.

“How can you travel to a country that wants to kill you?” says the narrator.

For several weeks, Ukrainian officials have accused Moscow of “illegally transporting” more than a million Ukrainians to Russia or to Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine.

The one million figure was corroborated by a Russian military ministry official, Mikhail Mizintsev, who added that the transfers of people were only done to “evacuate” them from “hazardous places.”

Because transport to Ukrainian-held areas was obstructed by conflict, several civilians were compelled to flee to Russia.
Yelyzaveta, originating from Izyum, a city in the east currently held by Russian soldiers, told AFP that this was the case for her after crossing from Russia into Estonia.

“It was hard to move toward Ukraine,” Tetiana told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Two other Mariupol families, like Tetiana, stated they were forced to flee to Russia. The Ukrainian government claims 20,000 people were killed in Mariupol.

Svitlana, an employee of a huge industrial firm, hid in a cellar in Mariupol with her husband and in-laws until Russian soldiers ordered them to a region of the city that was completely under Russian control.

“You can’t really say no when an armed man tells you that,” said the 46-year-old, who has since been able to go to Lviv in western Ukraine.

Her family was first moved to Novoazovsk, a tiny town near Mariupol controlled by rebels backed by Russia.
They stayed in a school for four days.

They were subsequently moved to Starobesheve, where they were housed in a congested community hall with people sleeping on the floor.
“The smell of filthy feet and filthy bodies was the worst.” “It lingered on our clothes even after we washed them a lot,” Svitlana explained.
The family was interrogated three days later in a building seized by separatist police.

They had to respond to written questions about whether they had relatives serving in the Ukrainian army, have their fingerprints taken, and hand over their phones for security checks.

The men had to strip in a separate area to show they didn’t have any Ukrainian patriotic tattoos or combat wounds, which could indicate they were in the military.

“My spouse had to strip down to his underwear and socks,” Svitlana explained.
“We also removed all images and social media from our phones,” she stated, fearful of penalties for her “pro-Ukraine” stance.

Ivan Druz, 23, was treated similarly in Starobesheve after leaving Mariupol with his half-brother in April.

Druz, who is now in Riga, had hoped to travel to Ukraine-controlled territory, but after a lot of moving around within Russian-occupied areas, he was told it was not allowed.

“They exhaust you at first, then tell you you can only exit in one route,” he explained.

He had to undress and answer questions in Ukrainian about his aunt’s chats after arriving at the Russian border.

“They wanted to make sure I wasn’t a Nazi,” he added, explaining why she was writing to him in Ukrainian.

Tetiana and Druz’s families were moved to Taganrog, around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Mariupol, once they arrived in Russia.
Officials informed them shortly after their arrival that they would have to go by train to Vladimir, around 1,000 kilometers north.
Ivan and his half-brother were forced to flee again, this time to Murom, 130 kilometers to the southeast, where they were housed in a refugee shelter.

Ivan, Tetyana, and Svitlana’s families eventually proceeded to Moscow, where they boarded buses bound for Latvia or Estonia, where Ukrainian immigrants are welcomed.
“We finally felt free after we arrived in Latvia,” Tetyana added.

Some residents of Mariupol, Ukraine’s destroyed city, who managed to flee, claim they were forced to fly to Russia in what the Kyiv government refers to as “deportations.”

Tetiana left Mariupol to try to save her nine-year-old daughter after spending weeks in a Mariupol basement following the loss of her father, who was killed in a rocket attack.

She took advantage of a gap in the shelling to travel to a meeting point set up by pro-Russian officials to find out about ways out, as she had no mobile network or other means of communication.

She was told that the only choice was to travel to Russia.

“We were taken aback. We didn’t want to go to Russia,” the 38-year-old accountant said over the phone from Riga, Latvia, where she and her family have taken asylum.

“How can you travel to a country that wants to kill you?” says the narrator.

For several weeks, Ukrainian officials have accused Moscow of “illegally transporting” more than a million Ukrainians to Russia or to Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine.

The one million figure was corroborated by a Russian military ministry official, Mikhail Mizintsev, who added that the transfers of people were only done to “evacuate” them from “hazardous places.”

Because transport to Ukrainian-held areas was obstructed by conflict, several civilians were compelled to flee to Russia.
Yelyzaveta, originating from Izyum, a city in the east currently held by Russian soldiers, told AFP that this was the case for her after crossing from Russia into Estonia.

“It was hard to move toward Ukraine,” Tetiana told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Two other Mariupol families, like Tetiana, stated they were forced to flee to Russia. The Ukrainian government claims 20,000 people were killed in Mariupol.

Svitlana, an employee of a huge industrial firm, hid in a cellar in Mariupol with her husband and in-laws until Russian soldiers ordered them to a region of the city that was completely under Russian control.

“You can’t really say no when an armed man tells you that,” said the 46-year-old, who has since been able to go to Lviv in western Ukraine.

Her family was first moved to Novoazovsk, a tiny town near Mariupol controlled by rebels backed by Russia.
They stayed in a school for four days.

They were subsequently moved to Starobesheve, where they were housed in a congested community hall with people sleeping on the floor.
“The smell of filthy feet and filthy bodies was the worst.” “It lingered on our clothes even after we washed them a lot,” Svitlana explained.
The family was interrogated three days later in a building seized by separatist police.

They had to respond to written questions about whether they had relatives serving in the Ukrainian army, have their fingerprints taken, and hand over their phones for security checks.

The men had to strip in a separate area to show they didn’t have any Ukrainian patriotic tattoos or combat wounds, which could indicate they were in the military.

“My spouse had to strip down to his underwear and socks,” Svitlana explained.
“We also removed all images and social media from our phones,” she stated, fearful of penalties for her “pro-Ukraine” stance.

Ivan Druz, 23, was treated similarly in Starobesheve after leaving Mariupol with his half-brother in April.

Druz, who is now in Riga, had hoped to travel to Ukraine-controlled territory, but after a lot of moving around within Russian-occupied areas, he was told it was not allowed.

“They exhaust you at first, then tell you you can only exit in one route,” he explained.

He had to undress and answer questions in Ukrainian about his aunt’s chats after arriving at the Russian border.

“They wanted to make sure I wasn’t a Nazi,” he added, explaining why she was writing to him in Ukrainian.

Tetiana and Druz’s families were moved to Taganrog, around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Mariupol, once they arrived in Russia.
Officials informed them shortly after their arrival that they would have to go by train to Vladimir, around 1,000 kilometers north.
Ivan and his half-brother were forced to flee again, this time to Murom, 130 kilometers to the southeast, where they were housed in a refugee shelter.

Ivan, Tetyana, and Svitlana’s families eventually proceeded to Moscow, where they boarded buses bound for Latvia or Estonia, where Ukrainian immigrants are welcomed.
“We finally felt free after we arrived in Latvia,” Tetyana added.

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