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ICRC denies aiding forced evacuations of Ukrainians to Russia

The International Committee of the Red Cross has denied accusations that it helped organise or carry out forced evacuations of Ukrainians to Russia.

“The ICRC does not ever help organize or carry out forced evacuations. This applies everywhere we work. We would not support any operation that would go against people’s will and our principles,” the Geneva-based humanitarian organisation said in a statement published late Saturday.

The ICRC statement, headlined “Addressing misinformation about ICRC’s activities”, did not specify what had given rise to the strong denial, saying only “over the past days, false information about the ICRC has been circulated that we must address”.

However, the statement appears to be a response to accusations by Roman Rukomeda, a Ukrainian political analyst who spoke to the Euractiv online media on Saturday.

In those comments, Rukomeda said “there is evidence of strange behaviour by the International Committee of the Red Cross and its head, who announced the decision to open an office in Russian Rostov to assist Russian terrorists in the illegal deportation of Ukrainian citizens”.

The ICRC warned that such “false information” could have a major impact on people affected by the conflict in Ukraine.

“This misinformation is also putting at risk Red Cross staff and volunteers on the ground and could jeopardize our access to people in need of urgent aid,” the statement added.

The ICRC did say that it had been involved in two evacuation operations for Ukrainian people, on March 15 and March 18 when they “facilitated the voluntary safe passage of civilians” out of the northeastern city of Sumy.

“On both occasions people willingly took buses leading them to another Ukrainian city, Lubny,” further from the Russian border, the ICRC said.

The Russian army has been accused of forcing thousands of Ukrainian civilians fleeing in particular the city of Mariupol, which has been under siege and relentless shelling for several weeks, to evacuate to Russia.

On Friday, Matilda Bogner, the UN rights office’s representative in Ukraine, said “we are looking at these accusations very carefully” but had not yet been able to verify them.

“Clearly, civilians have left Mariupol… and other places in the areas controlled by pro-Russian armed groups and a number of them are continuing their journey to Russia, but we have not been able to verify whether these are forced movements or not,” she told reporters.

ICRC president Peter Maurer has recently travelled to Russia and Ukraine, seeking to facilitate the work of his organisation during the conflict.