Ukraine said on Thursday that 400,000 people from the destroyed cities had been relocated to Russia against their will. Moscow said they went willingly.

KIU, Ukraine – Ukraine has accused Moscow of forcibly withdrawing hundreds of thousands of civilians from devastated Ukrainian cities to Russia to pressure Kyiv to refuse, while President Vladimir Zelensky called on his country to continue military defense and not stop “for a moment.” ». ”

Ludmila Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsman, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, had been deported against their will to Russia, where some could be used as “hostages” to put pressure on Kyiv to surrender.

The Kremlin said almost the same numbers for those who were relocated, but said they wanted to go to Russia. The rebel-controlled eastern regions of Ukraine are predominantly Russian-speaking, and many people there maintain close ties with Moscow.

As the war approached its second month, both sides dealt heavy blows in a devastating war of attrition. The Ukrainian Navy said it had sunk a large Russian landing craft near the port of Berdyansk, which was used to deliver armored vehicles. Russia has said it has captured the eastern city of Izyum after fierce fighting.

Zelensky used his night video to unite Ukrainians “go to peace, move forward.”

“Every day of our defense, we are getting closer to the peace we so desperately need. “We can’t stop for a minute, because every minute determines our destiny, our future, whether we will live.”

He said thousands of people died in the first month of the war, including 128 children. Across the country, 230 schools and 155 kindergartens were destroyed. Towns and villages “lie in the ashes,” he said.

At a NATO emergency summit in Brussels on Thursday, Zelensky asked a video of Western allies donating planes, tanks, missiles, air defense systems and other weapons, saying his country was “defending our common values.”

US President Joe Biden, who is in Europe for summits and other high-level meetings, assured that more help was on the wayalthough it seemed unlikely that the West would give Zelensky everything he wanted for fear of starting a much wider war.

Around the capital, Kyiv and other areas, Ukrainian defenders fought with Moscow’s ground forces almost to a standstill, raising fears that frustrated Russian President Vladimir Putin would use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

– Ukraine and Russia have exchanged a total of 50 prisoners of war and civilians, this is the largest exchange during this time, said Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Verashchuk.

– The authoritarian leader of Belarus warned that Poland’s proposal to deploy Western peacekeeping forces in Ukraine could provoke World War III.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who allowed Russia to use Belarus to launch an invasion, on Thursday pointed to Poland’s offer to hold a peacekeeping mission last week, saying “it would mean World War III”.

“The situation is very serious and very tense,” he added.

Lukashenko’s comment came after Putin warned at the start of the invasion that any foreign intervention in Moscow’s military action would provoke an immediate Russian response that would lead to “consequences you have never seen in your history.” A few days later, Putin transferred Russia’s nuclear forces to a special combat duty regime.

– In Chernihiv, where an airstrike destroyed an important bridge this week, city official Alexander Lamaka said that there was a “humanitarian catastrophe” when Russian forces targeted food storage. He said about 130,000 people remained in the besieged city, about half of its pre-war population.

—Russia said that from Friday it would offer safe passage to 67 ships from 15 foreign countries that ran aground in Ukrainian ports due to the danger of shelling and mines.

– Russian forces fired two missiles at the Ukrainian military unit on the outskirts of the Dnieper, the fourth largest city in the country, according to the regional emergency services. The strikes destroyed buildings and caused two fires, the report said. The number of dead and wounded was unclear.

Meanwhile, Kyiv and Moscow have given conflicting reports about the relocation of people to Russia and whether they traveled voluntarily – as Russia claimed – or forced or lied to them.

Russian Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev said about 400,000 people evacuated to Russia since the start of hostilities had been from Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have been fighting for control for nearly eight years.

Russian authorities have said they provide housing and pay for evacuees.

But the governor of the Donetsk region Pavel Kirilenko said that “people are forcibly relocated to the territory of the aggressor state.” Denisova said that among the deported by the Russian military was a 92-year-old woman in Mariupol, who was forced to go to Taganrog in southern Russia.

Ukrainian officials say Russians have taken people’s passports and moved them to a “filtration camp” in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine before sending them to various remote, economically depressed areas of Russia.

Among those captured, according to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, were 6,000 residents of Mariupol, a ruined port city in the east. The Moscow military is confiscating identity documents of another 15,000 people in the Russian-controlled area of ​​Mariupol, the ministry said.

Ukrainian intelligence has said some may be sent as far as the Pacific island of Sakhalin, and they are being offered jobs provided they do not leave for two years. The ministry said the Russians intended to “use them as hostages and put more political pressure on Ukraine.”

Kirilenko said that the residents of Mariupol have long been deprived of information and that the Russians are feeding them false statements about the defeat of Ukraine to persuade them to move to Russia.

“Russian lies can affect those who have been under siege,” he said.

As for the naval attack in Berdyansk, Ukraine said two more ships were damaged and a 3,000-ton fuel tank was destroyed by the sinking of the Russian ship Orsk, which led to a fire that spilled over to ammunition supplies.

Sending a signal that Western sanctions have not brought him to his knees, Russia has reopened the stock market but allowed only limited trade to prevent mass sales. Foreigners were forbidden to sell, and traders – short selling, otherwise prices will fall.

The United States is expanding sanctions against Russia, targeting members of parliament along with defense contractors. The United States plans to work with other Western countries to ensure that gold reserves held by Russia’s central bank are subject to existing sanctions.

Millions of people in Ukraine have got out of the countrysome reached the limit after trying to stay and cope.

At the central station in the western city of Lviv, a teenage girl was standing in the doorway of a waiting train, with a white domestic rabbit in her arms trembling. She went to her mother and then to Poland or Germany. She rode alone, leaving other family members in the Dnieper.

“At first I didn’t want to leave,” she said. “Now I’m afraid for my life.”

Anna reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Robert Burns of Washington, Juras Karmanov of Lviv, and other AP journalists around the world contributed to the report.

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