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Russia continues bombing Mariupol while producing propaganda videos about its ‘humanitarian aid’

26.03.2022
Halya Coynash

Woman outside Mariupol Maternity Hospital after Russia bombed it on 9 March Photo Evgeniy Maloletka, AP

The Mariupol authorities now believe that as many as 300 Ukrainians were killed when Russia bombed the Mariupol Drama Theatre on 16 March.  Over two thousand deaths from Russia’s relentless bombing and shelling of the city have been confirmed, however the real figure is likely to be very much higher.  There are mass graves everywhere, even in parks, because the Russian invaders will not stop their attack long enough to allow people to safely bury the dead.   

Yet Russia is still claiming that it is ‘liberating’ Donbas, and that it is providing ‘humanitarian aid’ to help those suffering from a catastrophe for which it purportedly bears no responsibility.  While refusing to provide safe corridors so that Ukrainians can leave for cities that Russia is not bombing so mercilessly, Moscow is also organizing propaganda stunts with ‘refugees’ taken to Russia or occupied Crimea.

On 24 March, the Mariupol City Council reported that around six thousand Mariupol residents had been forcibly deported to Russia with their passports and other ID taken from them.  It is believed that people are first taken to so-called ‘filtration camps’, one in occupied Dokuchaievsk,  where phones, etc. are checked (for evidence, for example, of being a Ukrainian volunteer, soldier, etc).  Russia appears to be combining propaganda with an attempt to find cheap labour for inhospitable parts of the Russian Federation, with people, for example, offered work on Sakhalin and other such parts of Northern Russia.  A hotline set up by a foundation linked with Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov has reported receiving calls from people now in Omsk, Voronezh or Saratov who say they had no idea where they were being taken.  According to Natalia Emchenko, there are those who agree to be taken away in Russian coaches since they want to survive and from their part of Mariupol, any other evacuation is blocked. Others, however, are simply told to get on coaches and that they are being evacuated “by officially agreed corridors”.

She stresses also that people are in a terrible state psychologically, and are also deprived of information about what is happening in Ukraine. Fake information is constantly circulated, she says, adding that on that day, cars with loudspeakers were circling around the city, falsely claiming that Odesa was under the control of the Russian army.

There is probably no possibility at present of proving how many residents were taken to Russia against their will.  It is, however, clear that Russia is continuing to place the lives of Mariupol residents in direct jeopardy, while at the same time blocking safe passage out of Mariupol to other places in Ukraine.  Witness testimony reported by Crimea SOS suggests that the Russians refused to provide a mother and child with food and water unless the mother agreed to hand over her Ukrainian passport and sign a two-year ‘asylum’ agreement.

Donbas Realities reports that forced deportation of Mariupol residents to occupied Donetsk or Crimea began as early as 14 March. 

Russia is also illegally taking Mariupol residents to occupied Crimea, with at least some clearly taken against their will.  The Kherson publication INzhir Media reported on 25 March that Ukrainians taken to School No. 8 in Dzhankoy had held a protest on 21 and 22 March, during which they chanted ‘Glory to Ukraine. Glory to the Heroes’; sang the Ukrainian national anthem and slogans against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.   The article’s URL was blocked by the evening of 25 March, and there is no way of independently verifying the information. 

It is, however, clear from Russian reports that such supposed evacuations are taking place, with reports speaking of ‘refugees’ being “happy to have got out”, while, of course, failing to explain just what the people are fleeing from.

The most shockingly cynical part of Russia’s ‘operation’ is, however, the propaganda aimed at claiming that Russians are providing ‘humanitarian aid’ in the city that Russia is endlessly bombing.  Donbas Realities has followed the activities of one propaganda film team which is videoing such supposed ‘charity’ in Mariupol and surrounding towns.  They point out that the team is making a huge number of such high-quality videos at a time when real media are seriously restricted by the lack of communications and the unending shelling.

The Telegram page «Крупнокалиберный переполох»​ was created on 4 March and has already produced over 400 videos where Alexei Smirnov is seen handing out humanitarian supplies to ‘grateful residents’.  Smirnov is wearing a Russian bulletproof vest and has a Makarov pistol on him while engaged in such Potemkin ‘philanthropy’.   Here too, of course, no mention is made of why the families he talks of, the woman he meets and can provide insulin too, etc., are in such need.  During one such video, you can clearly see a truck with the tell-tale ‘Z’ that Russia is using on its tanks and other weapons of destruction deployed in its war against Ukraine.  Another shows a truck with the words ‘Humanitarian aid from the Russian Federation’, the country that has just spent a month bombing Mariupol and killing its residents. 

It would seem that Smirnov himself has long been involved, either in propaganda or in fighting for the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR’].  He is certainly not running around in a city under constant Russian attack, and handing out ‘aid’ without serious backing and financing from Moscow. 

Given the international horror over Russia’s barbaric bombing of Mariupol and its residents, you might have expected Russia to fall silent, but quite the contrary.  The ruling ‘United Russia’ party has, instead, set up its headquarters in the part of Mariupol under Russian occupation and is using this for a so-called ‘humanitarian aid centre’ and propaganda footage with the nominal ‘leader’ of ‘DPR’ Denis Pushilin joined by a high-ranking official from ‘United Russia’, Andrei Turchak and State Duma MP Dmitry Sablin.  The latter are shown providing ‘aid’ to the people whose lives Russia has been systematically destroying.  That, according to Russian Newspeak is how it is ‘liberating Donbas’.

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