Ukraine has accused Russia of forcibly taking hundreds of thousands of its citizens hostage. Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said that 402,000 people out of which 84,000 were children have been taken against their will, from Ukrainian cities to Russia. Incidentally, the Kremlin has given nearly the same figures of the people they have relocated and wanted to go to Moscow. Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev said that around 400,000 people were evacuated from Donestk and Luhansk regions; these are predominantly Russian-speaking, rebel-controlled eastern regions.
However, it is speculated that some civilians might be used as hostages to put pressure on Kyiv to surrender. Both the countries have given conflicting accounts on the matter. According to Ukraine officials, Russian troops are taking people’s passports and moving them into “filtration camps” in Ukraine’s separatist-controlled regions, before sending them to distant “economically depressed areas in Russia”.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry indicated that among those taken, 6,000 were residents of Mariupol and an additional 15,000 were in a part of the city that is under Russia’s control, where Russian troops are confiscating identity documents.
It has been a month since Russia invaded Ukraine and amid the ongoing conflict, many people from one country have been held by the other. On Thursday, Kyiv and Moscow conducted their first exchange of prisoners. Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk indicated that the countries exchanged a total of 50 military personnel and civilians, following an order from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In exchange for 11 Russian sailors who were rescued, 19 Ukrainian civilian sailors held by Moscow were returned. Ukraine also claimed that it sank the Russian landing ship near the port city of Berdyansk, a port city, which was being used to bring in armoured vehicles. On the other hand, Russia claims to have taken the eastern town of Izyum.
Meanwhile, President Zelenskyy addressed the European Union council in a video posted on Facebook. He thanked them for stopping the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, an $11 billion project, which was set to double the flow of Russian gas to Germany. However, he said that these sanctions are “a little late” since Moscow has already destroyed 230 schools, 155 kindergartens, and killed 128 children. They have also killed journalists who had the “Press” inscription on them. He added, “Whole cities, villages. Just to ashes. Nothing remains.” At an emergency NATO summit, via a video message, Zelenskyy pleaded for planes, tanks, rockets, air defences and other weapons from the Western allies.
According to intelligence received from the General Staff of Armed Forces of Ukraine, Russia wants the conflict to end by May 9, celebrated in Russia “as the day of victory over Nazi Germany”.