Russian forces occupying the port city of Mariupol are planning to dress up Ukrainian “prisoners of war” in military uniforms as part of a “grotesque” parade that will coincide with Russia’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations, an adviser to the city’s mayor said.
In a post on his Telegram channel, Petro Andriushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said city officials have obtained information that almost 2,000 men are currently being held in so-called “filtration camps.”
Ukrainian officials have described the camps in the southern Ukrainian city as facilities where Russian forces detain captured citizens before sending them to remote Russian locations. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has compared them to Nazi concentration camps from World War II.
Andriushchenko said the men were taken from the villages of Bezimenne and Kozatske almost four weeks ago.
“These men are held there and they are told that they will be made to wear the Ukrainian [military] uniform and to participate in a so-called ‘war prisoners parade’ in Mariupol because they [the Russians] lack actual prisoners of war,” the adviser said.
“It will be a grotesque crowd scene for another propaganda image,” he added.
He also said that Russians are preparing to hold May 9 Victory Day celebrations in the shattered Ukrainian city. Victory Day is a hugely symbolic day for the Kremlin, and commemorates the end of World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War.
Russian representatives for the city visited on Wednesday, and installed a “scarecrow of a woman with a flag,” he claimed.
Preparations for this “obscurantism” are underway, Andriushchenko added.
‘Parade on Bones’
Russian forces are also working to clear away rubble in the city for the event, which he described as a “parade on the bones of Mariupol citizens.”
Local residents were forced to assist with clearing debris in exchange for food, he claimed.
“Work in exchange for food: This is the best illustration of the occupiers’ ‘victory,'” he wrote.
“The occupiers continue to dismantle the debris in the city center, including the Drama Theater, in preparation for the parade,” the adviser said.
Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency also said on Wednesday that the Kremlin intends to turn the city into a center of “celebrations” on Victory Day.
“To this end, the city is urgently cleaning the central streets of debris, the bodies of those killed and unexploded ordnance,” the agency said.
Newsweek has been unable to independently verify the claims.
The reports come amid mounting speculation from Western officials that Russian President Vladimir Putin could use Victory Day to declare an all-out war on Ukraine. The Kremlin has called such suggestions “nonsense.”
Russian forces intensified attacks on Mariupol after failing to capture Kyiv in the early weeks of Putin’s invasion. Some 200 civilians are believed to be trapped in the city’s Azovstal steel works.
Mariupol is a strategic port city on the Azov Sea that would provide a land corridor to Crimea, which the Kremlin annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday pushed back against Russian claims that Mariupol was fully under Russian control.
“Azovstal, the stronghold, the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol still holds,” he said.
Newsweek has contacted the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.