By Lidia Kelly
(Reuters) – Ukraine has asked the International Committee of the Red Cross not to open a planned office in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don, saying it would legitimise Moscow’s “humanitarian corridors” and the abduction and forced deportation of Ukranians.
The head of the ICRC said on Thursday after his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that agreement between the Russian and Ukrainian armies was needed before civilians could be evacuated properly from war-torn Ukraine.
Russian media reported that Red Cross chief Peter Maurer asked Russia to facilitate the opening of a Red Cross office in Rostov-on-Don.
Mykhailo Radutskyi, chairman of the public health committee in Ukraine’s parliament, appealed to the Red Cross to change its plans.
“The Committee calls on the International Committee of the Red Cross that it would not legitimise ‘humanitarian corridors’ on the territory of the Russian Federation as well as that it would not support the abduction of Ukrainians and its forced deportation,” Radutskyi said in a statement.
The ICRC told Reuters it had no ‘first-hand’ information about reports of forced evacuations to Russia from Ukraine and that it did not facilitate any such operations.
The aid agency said the potential opening of an office in Rostov-on-Don was part of efforts to scale up its operations in the region to meet humanitarian needs where they arise.
“Our priority is to reach victims of armed conflict, wherever they are, in order to assist them,” the ICRC said.
Rostov-on-Don is the largest Russian city on Ukraine’s eastern border and administrative capital of the Rostov region, which has been used by Russia for temporary accommodation camps for people transported out of the war zone.
Russia said last week it had evacuated several hundred thousand people from Ukraine since the start of what it calls is a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbour.
Ukraine says that Russia has illegally deported thousands of people since the war started, including about 15,000 civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced nearly 4 million and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the West.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Lincoln Feast, William Maclean)