Thousands of Mariupol residents have been “forcibly” taken to Russia, the Ukrainian city’s mayor has claimed.
Vadym Boychenko compared the actions of Russian forces to the Nazis capturing and deporting civilians during World War Two.
Sky News could not independently verify the claims.
It came as Ukraine’s ministry of defence said its forces had shot down three Russian combat helicopters but Russian forces had spent Saturday focusing on “replenishing current losses, restoring partially destroyed equipment, transferring foreign mercenaries to border areas with Ukraine…” rather than conducting “offensive operations”.
Meanwhile, the UK Ministry of Defence, in its intelligence briefing, said Russian forces continued to encircle a number of Ukraine’s eastern cities and it looked likely Russia would continue to use heavy firepower “to support assaults on urban areas… at the cost of further civilian casualties”.
As the briefing was released on Sunday, the city council in Mariupol said Russian forces have bombed an art school where 400 residents had taken refuge. So far, there is no information in casualties.
Other key developments:
• Dozens of soldiers feared dead after attack on Mykolaiv barracks
• Russia fires ‘hypersonic missile’ for first time since invasion
• More than 1,000 people still trapped in bombed theatre
• Extraordinary survival as man rescued after hours under debris
• Boris Johnson claims Putin in a ‘panic’ over revolution in Moscow
Over the past week, the city council said several thousand Ukrainians were illegally removed from the Livoberezhniy district and shelters in the building of a sports club, where more than 1,000 people had been hiding from the constant bombing.
Mr Boychenko said the Ukrainian military had withdrawn from these areas, where fighting took place, to avoid putting civilians at risk.
‘Their fate remains unknown’
“It is known that the captured Mariupol residents were taken to filtration camps, where the occupiers checked people’s phones and documents,” he said.
“After the inspection, some Mariupol residents were redirected to remote cities in Russia; the fate of others remains unknown.
“What the occupiers are doing today is familiar to the older generation, who saw the horrific events of World War Two, when the Nazis forcibly captured people.
“It is hard to imagine that in the 21st century people would be forcibly deported to another country.
“Not only are Russian troops destroying our peaceful Mariupol, they have gone even further and started deporting Mariupol residents.”
Russia’s defence ministry said buses carrying people it described as refugees from Mariupol started arriving in Russia on Tuesday.
The ministry was not immediately available to comment on the claims.
Russia says refugees are voluntarily going to the country
The Russian TASS news agency reported on Saturday that 13 buses were bringing more than 350 people to Russia, about 50 of whom would be sent by train to the Yaroslavl region.
Russia’s RIA Novasti agency reported last week that nearly 300,000 people, including some 60,000 children, have arrived from the Luhansk and Donbas regions, including Mariupol, in recent weeks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily night-time video address to the Ukrainian people Russia’s siege of Mariupol would “go down in history of responsibility for war crimes”.
Some 400,000 people have been trapped in the southern port city for more than two weeks, sheltering from heavy bombardment that has hit the supply of electricity, heating and water, according to local authorities.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said 6,623 people were evacuated on Saturday, with eight out of 10 humanitarian corridors used.
Peace talks ‘necessary’
“Ukraine has always sought a peaceful solution,” Mr Zelenskyy said. “Moreover, we are interested in peace now.”
He said ongoing negotiations with Russia were “not simple or pleasant, but they are necessary”.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow expected its “operation” in Ukraine to end with the signing of a comprehensive agreement on security issues, including Ukraine’s neutral status, according to Interfax news agency.
Kyiv and Moscow had reported some progress in talks last week, but Mr Zelenskyy has so far refused to rule out joining NATO – a longstanding Russian demand.
At least 847 Ukrainian civilians are known to have been killed so far in the war, including 64 children, the UN said, but added that “the actual toll is much higher”. The number of civilians injured is at least 1,399.
The bodies of at least 50 Ukrainian soldiers were also recovered after a military base was attacked by Russia on Saturday in the southern city of Mykolaiv.
However, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said on Saturday night that Russia has failed to gain control of Ukrainian airspace, significantly blunting their progress.