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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Russia may be preparing for a “forced evacuation” of Crimea

According to Ukrainian media, Russian forces on the annexed peninsula of Crimea could “prepare for a possible so-called forced evacuation.”

Russian officials “visited homes and inquired about residents” in Crimea, including whether households had children or elderly members, Ukrainian outlet channel 24 reports, citing Eskender Bariiev from the non-governmental organization Crimean Tatar Resource Center.

The gathering of this information means that Russian forces are “likely preparing for a possible so-called forced evacuation,” Bariiev said in a paraphrased advert in the Ukrainian newspaper UKrinform.

news week emailed the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.

Crimea, located south of mainland Ukraine, was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014. Since then, Kiev has reaffirmed its commitment to retaking the peninsula. Ukrainian media have previously published reports of possible evacuations of Crimean residents.

On Thursday, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, Vadym Skibitsky, said Russia was “really preparing for defensive actions” in Crimea, adding that “infrastructure is being kept in combat readiness.”

“These are powerful land and aviation components located on the territory of Crimea,” he said.

On Thursday, the head of the Russian-controlled authorities in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, told Russian state media outlet Tass that Kyiv’s forces will “under no circumstances” retake the peninsula. Reason are defensive measures that would be taken on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He added that Kremlin-backed authorities in Crimea were monitoring what state media described as “fortification work on the peninsula”.

Russian sources have also indicated that Moscow is fortifying parts of Ukraine’s annexed southern Zaporizhia region, according to the Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War.

Satellite images have shown an “increase” in Russian “fortifications” in Zaporizhzhia, the think tank said on Wednesday, as well as more barriers and ditches emerging in the annexed Kherson region north of Crimea.

On Wednesday, Russian state media operating in the peninsula allegedly shared footage of Crimean schoolchildren receiving weapons training in classrooms.

The Crimean arm of Russian state media company RIA Novosti quoted Crimean politician Vladimir Konstantinov as saying that children of kindergarten and school age are now being taught “martial arts” and “drill training”.

In an accompanying video, a group of schoolchildren can be seen racing to learn how to use guns, seemingly disassembling and reassembling guns in a race against one another.

Russia’s Ministry of Education has updated schools’ curricula to “include training with assault rifles and AK-series hand grenades, military drills and gun salutes, and the use of personal protective equipment,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Jan. 29, 2023.

Crimea is now perceived as “a festering sore in Ukrainian society,” said Rory Finnin, associate professor of Ukrainian studies at Cambridge University in the UK, earlier news week.

Russia “weaponized” Crimea by starting a full-scale war in February 2022, Finn argued, because Moscow used the annexed territory as a “launch pad” for an attack on Ukraine.

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