Ukraine sinks Russian ship amid claims Moscow deporting civilians

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Ukraine received a significant morale boost on Thursday when Ukrainian forces sank the Russian landing craft Orsk in the occupied port of Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov.

Videos circulating on social media showed the flash of an explosion, followed by footage of the ship in flames and spewing black smoke. Three smaller Russian ships, the Novocherkask, Saratov and Tsezar Kunukov, reportedly sailed out of Berdyansk harbour, two of them also on fire. The flames spread to an ammunition depot and destroyed a 3,000-tonne fuel tank.

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Russian television had broadcast a boastful report about the Orsk three days earlier, noting that it was the first Russian war ship to enter Berdyansk, and that Comdr Sergei Skortsov had been decorated for the “liberation” of Crimea in 2014.

The Orsk had a capacity of 400 troops, 20 tanks and 45 armoured vehicles, according to Ukrainian news reports. It now lies under five metres of water.

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The reinforcements are believed to have come from Crimea and were destined for the besieged port of Mariupol, 84km from Berdyansk.

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Mass graves

Mariupol, a city with a pre-war population of 400,000, has endured near-continuous bombardment for weeks. Water, electricity, heat and telecommunications have been cut. Food is scarce and bodies are buried in mass graves or left by the roadside. Russian forces and their separatist allies have repeatedly attacked evacuation convoys.

Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in Mariupol. The city council reported on Thursday that Russian troops wielding loudhailers attempt to lure residents from their shelters with the message, “Odesa has fallen. Zaporizhzhia will accept no more refugees. The government in Kyiv has forsaken you. The bus to Rostov is the only path to safety.”

Officials said 15,000 residents of Mariupol had been deported to Russia. Deportees are reportedly forced to give up their Ukrainian identity papers and are offered jobs in economically depressed areas of Russia, in some cases as far away as the Pacific island of Sakalin. They must promise to remain in their new place of residence for two years.

Chechen fighters

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Millions of Ukrainians were deported to the Soviet Union, usually to Siberia, over the past century. Nazi Germany also deported Ukrainians to labour and death camps during the second World War.

Mariupol’s mayor, Vadym Boichenko, compared Russia’s present-day tactics to those of the Nazis. “What the Russian occupiers are doing cannot be explained. At first, they blockade a peaceful city, purposefully start killing people, and then forcibly deport them to their territory,” he said.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Vladimir Putin, boasted on social media that Chechen fighters had raised their flag over the main administration building in Mariupol.

Ukraine’s human rights commissioner, Lyudmila Dnisova, accused Russia of violating the Geneva Conventions by firing rockets filled with white phosphorus at a residential neighbourhood in Rubiszhne, in the self-proclaimed people’s republic of Luhansk, killing four and wounding six.

Russia reportedly fired on an evacuation train travelling from the capital Kyiv to Lviv. Three windows were shattered but there were no casualties.

Watch more: In Russian invasion of Ukraine, Cold War echoes reverberate

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