KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine accused Moscow on Thursday of forcibly taking hundreds of thousands of civilians from shattered Ukrainian cities to Russia, where some may be used as “hostages” to pressure Kyiv to give up.
Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, have been taken against their will.
The Kremlin gave nearly identical numbers for those who have been relocated, but said they wanted to go to Russia. Ukraine’s rebel-controlled eastern regions are predominantly Russian-speaking, and many people there have supported close ties to Moscow.
A month into the invasion, meanwhile, the two sides traded heavy blows in what has become a devastating war of attrition. Ukraine’s navy said it sank a large Russian landing ship near the port city of Berdyansk that had been used to bring in armored vehicles. Russia claimed to have taken the eastern town of Izyum after fierce fighting.
At an emergency NATO summit in Brussels, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded with the Western allies via video for planes, tanks, rockets, air defense systems and other weapons, saying his country is “defending our common values.”
U.S President Joe Biden, in Europe for the summit and other high-level meetings, gave assurances more aid is on its way, though it appeared unlikely the West would give Zelenskyy everything he wanted, for fear of triggering a much wider war.
Around the capital, Kyiv, and other areas, Ukrainian defenders have fought Moscow’s ground troops to a near-stalemate, raising fears that a frustrated Russian President Vladimir Putin will resort to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
In other developments Thursday:
—Ukraine and Russia exchanged a total of 50 military and civilian prisoners, the largest swap reported yet, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
—The pro-Moscow leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, warned that Poland’s proposal to deploy a Western peacekeeping force in Ukraine “will mean World War III.”