• 29/02/2024 06:34

How Russia abducts children from Ukraine – Reuters investigation

Russian officials and collaborators are involved in the abduction of children from the occupied territories of Ukraine.

How Russia abducts children from Ukraine, — Reuters investigation

Reuters published a large-scale investigation of children in the occupied territories by Russian officials and collaborators.

Agency journalists spent six months investigating the fate of Ukrainian children abducted by Russia, orphaned or divorced from their families.

At the beginning of last year, school teachers in the Russian-occupied south of Ukraine announced the arrival of a special a guest from Moscow.

Many students of Genichesk Vocational School No. 27 were left orphans or separated from their families. Among them were Lisa Batsura and Zorik Ibrian, both 16 years old, are from Kherson, one of the first cities to fall during the Russian invasion a year earlier.

The teenagers have spent the last few months in seaside camps in Russian-annexed Crimea, where camp workers forbade them from wearing blue -yellow colors of Ukraine and forced me to learn the Russian anthem by heart. Recently, pro-Russian officials moved them to Russian-controlled Genichesky.

The “special” guest was Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights.

How Russia abducts children from Ukraine , — Reuters investigation

A teenager named Nastya, who also recognized Lvova-Belova, the latter suggested that Nastya find a family in Russia and issue a Russian passport.

“I have a mother, but they thought I was an orphan,” Lisa told Reuters a few months later. “They wanted to give me a Russian passport and find me a family, a Russian family.”

Lisa returned to Ukraine thanks to her mother Oksana Galkina, who found her in Genichesk and brought her home in May last year. Most of the evidence of the mass movement of Ukrainian children to Russia comes from repatriates like Lisa.

“I hope I never see any of them again,” says Lisa, who managed to return from Russian captivity.

“I hope I never see any of them again,” says Lisa, who managed to return from Russian captivity.

“I hope I never see any of them again,” says Lisa, who managed to return from Russian captivity.

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Other children from Kherson who lived in Genichesk still remain in the hands of the Russians. Among them are Lisa's classmate and his brother Daniil, who were orphaned in 2021.

Reuters journalists spent six months investigating the fate of missing Ukrainian children who have no relatives to stand up for them because they are orphans or otherwise separated from their families. The stories of these children remain largely hidden.

In identifying the children in this story, Reuters relied on interviews, publicly available official databases of missing Ukrainian children, photographs and details released by Russian officials.

The faces of the teenagers were confirmed by the head of the Kherson orphanage where they lived and shared a photo of the group.

As for preschool children, all images, names and dates of birth have already been published in the state databases of Ukraine.

After interviewing dozens of witnesses to their deportation and reviewing social networks and Russian news, Reuters identified Lisa Zvezda’s classmate Danil and three other teenagers taken from Kherson with her. All five – whose parents have died or cannot care for them – are still in Russian-controlled territory, supported by the Russian state, with little chance of returning to Ukraine.

Reuters also tracked 48 young orphans from Kherson who were five years old or younger at the time of their transfer.The group is at the center of separate kidnapping charges brought by Ukrainian prosecutors against three unnamed individuals – a Russian and two Ukrainians.

Some of the 48 babies may have been taken to Yelochka's home in Crimea. In interviews with six current and former employees at the home, Reuters found that about 30 remained there as of November 2023.

About a dozen Kherson children were placed in the Opushkinsky children's tuberculosis sanatorium, according to three people with direct understanding. The sanatorium is located in a village 24 km east of Simferopol and cares for children who are sent from Russia to recover in the dry air of Crimea.

Two more children are now in Russia. One of them is Ilya Vashchenko, who turns four this month. Ilya received a new Russian birth certificate on September 26 last year at the Russian state registry office in Podolsk, near Moscow.

The second child is two-year-old Margarita Prokopenko, who was adopted by the head of the party “A Just Russia – for Truth” Sergei Mironov and his wife Inna Varlamova. The child's name was changed to Marina Mironova. The adoption was first reported by the BBC and the Russian publication IStories.

The agency emphasizes that behind the removal of Ukrainian children there is a “huge machine for deportation, placement and re-education.” According to journalists, Lvov-Belov, members of the Russian parliament, “officials” in the occupied Crimea and collaborators among Ukrainian doctors and teachers participated in the deportation of two groups of orphans from Kherson. In some cases, Russians have used children in their propaganda videos.

Deportations to the Russian Federation caused enormous human damage: siblings were separated, vulnerable youth were pitted against each other, and preschool children were left without blood relatives to have rights to them – hidden from view far in Russia.

Returning these children is a difficult task, volunteers and officials in Ukraine say, and the job is getting harder every day as the children get older and exposed to Russian influence.

“Almost everyone has been brainwashed,” says Nikolai Kuleba, head of Save Ukraine, a nonprofit that helps smuggle Ukrainian children out of Russian-controlled territory. “And we will never be able to bring them back. Because they hate Ukraine now,” he added.

A Reuters source in Crimea noted that by order of the “head” of the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula, Sergei Aksenov, any information about the deported Ukrainian orphans was declared strictly confidential in the region. According to the source, any requests from Western media regarding children must be immediately reported to the “authorities” of Crimea. According to him, the issue was taken under control in the office of Lvovskaya-Belova.

What future awaits Kherson children is unclear. There may be certain clues from the experience of the fate of children from the Donetsk region of Ukraine, which has been under Russian occupation since 2014.

Of the thousands of children in the Donetsk region, more than 250 were moved to children's institutions, foster homes or deported to Russia and are raised by guardians. This information was obtained by Reuters thanks to the Ukrainian hacker group Kiborg.

The files contain the personal details of every child in care and cover the period from 2014 until the end of 2022. Most of the children were moved in 2022, some to Murmansk, near Finland, and Noyabrsk, in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug of Siberia.

Deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia:

  • In September, Save Ukraine returned 13 more children from the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine. In total, Save Ukraine returned 176 children to Ukraine.
  • A large number of countries are ready to join the issue of protecting Ukrainian children and returning home everyone who was kidnapped by Russia.
  • The occupation administrations in the temporarily occupied lands were ordered to prepare new lists of children without guardianship.
  • On the territory of the Russian Federation, Ukraine is starting an information campaign “Do you know – tell me!” in order to return deported children. The campaign is being implemented by the FREEDOM TV channel, for feedback there will be a telegram chat “I’m Here”.
  • Read about the deportation of Ukrainian children to the territory of the Russian Federation in the LB.ua material “Deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia: chronology of the crime”.
  • The abduction of children from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine is one of the many war crimes that Russia commits during the war. The exact number of young Ukrainians divorced from their families and taken to the Russian Federation is unknown. At the same time, the Russians themselves said that they had “evacuated” more than 324,000 children. So far, only a few hundred have been recovered. The theft is clearly planned and occurs according to several scenarios.

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