They had disappeared silently, in the turmoil of war. One autumn Friday, the eve of school holidays, hundreds of children from the Kherson region had not returned home. The school principals had encouraged the parents to accept that their children go to a two-week summer camp in the Crimea. At the end of the holidays, no one had returned. Girls and boys had been caught up in what appears to be a massive Russian operation to deport and “Russify” the children of Ukraine.
Seventeen of them, taken from their families, were repatriated to kyiv on Wednesday March 22 by the humanitarian organization Save Ukraine. The figure for this rescue is staggering, while Ukraine has already identified 16,226 deported children, and the toll could be much higher. These seventeen are the first to return from Russia or occupied Ukrainian territories, since the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued arrest warrants on March 17 for “illegal deportation” of children against the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and Maria Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for the Rights of the Child of Russia.
Fifteen of these minors come from the Kherson region and experienced deportation under an identical scenario. These are not extremely violent cases, as they are beginning to be documented by Ukrainian or international investigators, of children abducted after the assassination or arrest of a parent, or during a passage in “filtration camps” on the deportation routes. They were instead victims of an insidious method consisting, via the school system, of inviting them to summer camp and not returning them to their families.
“They told us that our parents no longer wanted us”
This is how hundreds of kids were transferred from Kherson to Crimea on October 7, 2022, and did not return two weeks later. To the parents, the directors of the schools said that the stay in summer camp was prolonged on order of the military administration, because of combats, for their protection. The motive was spurious because, apart from the fact that it is against international law to separate children from their families, the recapture of Kherson by the Ukrainian army did not take place until the following month, on November 11, after a military withdrawal Russian in good order and without the city being destroyed.
To the children, the directors of holiday camps held very different speeches, which clearly support the thesis of kidnapping and illegal deportation. “They told us that our parents no longer wanted us in Ukraine. They threatened us: either we joined their Russian school, or we risked going to prison.says Genia, 15 years old. “We had to remove the Ukrainian symbols, like a blue and yellow bracelet, and we had to sing the Russian anthem every day”said Taya. “When I saw that we only had a mattress and a pillow, I asked for a blanket and sheets. The director of the camp answered me: “Hey, you forgot that you come from Ukraine! Your parents have already forgotten you, you don’t want anything here!” »murmurs Vitaly, 16 years old. “I was afraid to be there forever, testifies genius, because they said that if our parents did not pick us up before the end of the school year, we would be sent to orphanages in Russia. »
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