UP to 40,000 Ukrainians have been snatched from besieged cities and forced into Russian slave labour in a war crime revealed by The Sun today.
Sergei Orlov, deputy mayor of devastated city Mariupol, spoke exclusively from his bunker yesterday to reveal the plight of civilians hauled into enemy territory.
And he said hundreds of children are now lost and alone in the clutches of ruthless Russian troops after being forced away from their families.
Mr Orlov told the Sun: “Russian troops are bursting into cellars and basements where our people are hiding like frightened mice and telling them: ‘You have 15 minutes to leave.’
“If they refuse to come out the buildings are destroyed, leaving families entombed.
“We have made contact with people who have told us what is happening — they are being taken off to Russia to work for the state in depressed areas.
“It is forced labour. They are having to work for Russia to survive.
“But worst of all, the Russians are separating children from parents when they take people out of our city.
“Hundreds of children from kindergarten age upwards are being held at a hospital in Donetsk and kept away from their parents.
“They are trying everything they can to break us. Our city does not exist anymore. Now they are taking away its people.”
Mr Orlov detailed for the first time how Russian forces are running a sinister operation bearing the hallmarks of the Nazi terror of World War Two.
He said snatched civilians were being processed using a system the Russians call “filtration” and are being taken behind enemy lines to centres in the pro-Putin eastern cities of Donetsk, Dokuchaevsk and Starobeshevo.
Adults have identity papers examined, while men are strip-searched for tattoos showing support for Ukrainian nationalism.
Those deemed suitable workers are then shipped — sometimes thousands of miles — to depressed areas in need of labour.
Their passports are held by their Russian captors and they are obliged to use temporary work permits to enable them to earn money to survive.
Mr Orlov said most were given menial jobs in grim areas suffering social deprivation, regardless of their qualifications.
And hundreds of children are said to have been wrenched from their families to be held alongside war orphans.
Mr Orlov said his sources behind Russian lines had discovered that many bewildered youngsters were now being housed at a hospital in Donetsk.
He told The Sun: “The Russians are separating children from their families and holding them at this hospital. It is a cruel and inhuman war crime.
“We try to keep going, but the suffering we are having to endure is intolerable.
“The last time so many terrorised people were moved around Europe was in World War Two and the similarities with Nazi tactics are very clear.
“Ukrainians are finding themselves being taken as far away as Siberia to work and I am sure many will also end up in eastern Russia before long.
“It is hard to imagine now that little more than a month ago we were all living happily in a great Ukrainian city.”
Mr Orlov admitted Russian forces now control Mariupol suburbs to the east, north and north-west of the city centre — which was incredibly still holding firm last night.
He said: “We are being shelled from all directions, including from warships out at sea, which we have no means of destroying.
“I would estimate there are still 170,000 living like moles underground and up to 20,000 are children.
“There is no food or water or power and every day I’m being asked to help, but there is very little we can do.
“One of the worst moments was when a mother told me she had no food left for her infant child and he was hungry and she asked me: ‘What can I do?’.
“But I didn’t have an answer.
“All any of us can do now is pray that somehow we will get through this and be able to rebuild our lost city.”
Ukrainian Human Rights group ZMINA has also accused the Russian government of a campaign of targeted civilian abductions.
The group will today publish a list of those snatched, demanding their immediate release.
It follows reports confirmed by the UN of at least 36 civilians being abducted and detained.
But Sun sources in Mariupol revealed the scale of the war crime kidnap campaign is much bigger.
Tetiana Pechonchyk, head of ZMINA, said: “Putin can’t take Ukraine so he’s taking its people. Dozens of civilians have been abducted and thousands more deported to Russia.
“These war crimes have names and faces. They aren’t soldiers — they are journalists, aid workers, elected officials and council workers.”
Refugees are also facing the threat of sex trafficking, with reports of gangs turning up at the Polish border looking for women to force into prostitution.
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