Moscow plots mass migration to ‘Russify’ port city

Aliide Naylor

August 21, 2023

The Times


Ukraine says it has uncovered a Russian plan to ethnically cleanse the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol via mass population transfers during the next ten years.

The alleged project would involve 300,000 Russians migrating to the city, which Moscow almost completely destroyed last year, at the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine, in a siege lasting almost three months.

Ukraine’s National Resistance Centre, created by the country’s special forces, said that Russia’s “development plan” envisages an increase in Mariupol’s population by 300,000 as a result of migration from Russia. The demographic changes would be fully implemented by 2035, it noted, citing sources “with access to the occupation administration’s documents”.

To support the move, the Kremlin has been instituting a system of preferential mortgages for Russians, which the centre said “emphasizes that these actions correspond to the signs of genocide according to international law”.

Before Russia’s invasion, Mariupol had a population of more than 450,000. Now only about 100,000 people remain. Russia razed Mariupol during last year’s siege, killing more than 25,000 people and destroying about 90 per cent of the city’s buildings. Some reports suggest the death toll was at least three times as high. Up to 350,000 residents were forced to leave, according to UN estimates.

During the siege, Russian forces bombed the theatre, which had been sheltering hundreds of civilian refugees and had the word “children” written clearly outside. Remaining residents were left without water or heating.

After the destruction, Moscow has attempted to “Russify” the city, painting its city sign in the colours of the Russian flag, changing Ukrainian-language signs to Russian and constructing new apartment buildings. It has brought in what it describes as “humanitarian aid”, as well as offering higher pay to construction workers willing to build in the city.

Last month, the Moscow-installed mayor Konstantin Ivashchenko told Tass, the state news agency, that a “Russian resort city will emerge”. Russians are now looking en masse to buy apartments in the city, aided by cheap mortgages and supported by mandatory Russian state insurance in the case of loss.

Russia has also been moving mobile information complexes into the city to transmit propaganda to remaining residents. Some Russian Instagram influencers have also used the backdrop of the ruined city for photoshoots.

President Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian children’s rights commissioner, are both wanted by the International Criminal Court accused of forcibly deporting thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. Putin appeared to visit the city this March, with state media showing him driving around the streets at night.

Russia has abducted more than 16,000 children from Mariupol, placing them in Russian orphanages or foster homes. Some parents were tricked into letting their children go by promises of evacuation to safety.


Aliide Naylor is a British journalist, author, and editor who has been working on Russia and its ‘near-abroad’ since 2011. Her freelance reportage has been published by a variety of outlets, including Vice, The Times of London, the Guardian, Tortoise, POLITICO Europe, and many more. Whilst I have extensive experience working on Russia, Europe, and international affairs, I also enjoys covering technology, society and culture (and often stories that incorporate elements of all three). My first book, ‘The Shadow in the East: Vladimir Putin and the New Baltic Front’, was published by Bloomsbury in January 2020.