Freed Ukrainian children kidnapped by Russia tell of their ordeal

Freed – kidnapped kids Putin ‘tried to beat the Ukrainian out of’: Overjoyed youngsters embrace family as they finally get back home after MONTHS in brutal Kremlin ‘camps’ – as war crimes warrant awaits Russian President for forcing them over the border

  • Officials in Kyiv say the children have allegedly been placed in institutions
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is accused of overseeing the deportations  

A Ukrainian charity has repatriated 17 children taken by Russian authorities after their towns were overrun by Kremlin troops. 

The children were taken to camps in Crimea, which is under Russian control, where they were threatened with violence if the expressed pro-Ukrainian sympathies or failed to sing the Russian national anthem. 

The children were among an estimated 16,000 who have been ‘kidnapped’ by Russian authorities since the invasion of Ukraine. 

The release was praised by EU chief Ursula von der Leyen  who announced she would help organise a conference on securing the return of Ukrainian children taken to Russia during the ongoing conflict.

‘It is a horrible reminder of the darkest times of our history, what’s happening there to deport children. This is a war crime,’ she said, after a summit of EU leaders.

Denys Zaporozchenko,left, greets his children Nikita, Yana and Dayana after they are returned from Russian-held territory to Kyiv having been held since October 

Mr Zaporozhchenko, pictured with his son Nikita, left, was reunited with his family after an NGO Save Ukraine arranged 17 children to be returned from Russian held territory 

Last week, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant accusing Russia’s President Vladimir Putin of war crimes for overseeing the deportation of Ukrainian children.

Russia is accused of attempting to ‘re-educate’ the children, while some of the victims were threatened with violence and punished for expressing pro-Ukrainian views. 

One teenager, who had been taken to a camp in Russian-controlled Crimea told The Telegraph that a security officer had warned him: ‘We will take you to an orphanage, you will sit there and understand everything.’ 

Moments after the bus returning him and more than a dozen other children from Russian-held territory arrived in Kyiv, a ten-year-old boy jumped straight into his father’s arms.

Denys Zaporozhchenko held his son and kissed his forehead, before also hugging his two daughters who were among the 17 children separated from their parents for months.

The reunion was organised by Save Ukraine, an NGO that fights what it says are illegal deportations of Ukrainian children to Russian-controlled territory.

More than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the February 24, 2022 invasion, according to Kyiv, with many allegedly placed in institutions and foster homes.

Russia denies the allegations, saying instead it has saved Ukrainian children from the horrors of the war.

Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, was photographed with Ukrainian children reportedly taken from the Donbass region to Russia for adoption 

Lvova-Belova and Vladimir Putin face arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court for unlawfully deporting children from Ukraine

But the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week issued an arrest warrant against President Vladimir Putin for unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.

Zaporozhchenko last saw his children in October in Kherson, the only regional capital that Russian forces captured following the invasion, when they left for a so-called Russian summer camp.

He expected tough fighting in his home city as Ukrainian forces were pushing closer to recapturing it, which they ultimately did in November.

Sending his kids to Crimea – a scenic and touristy peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014 – seemed the lesser evil.

Russian officials ‘promised to send them to these camps for a week or two,’ he told AFP.

‘By the time we realised we shouldn’t have done it (let them go), it was too late,’ he said.

Inessa, pictured, hugs her son Vitaly after he was returned from Russian-held territory

One of the rescued children said Russians had planned to bring them to Russia for adoption

Families were sometimes pressured into sending their kids on the so-called holidays, said Myroslava Kharchenko, a lawyer working with Save Ukraine.

‘(Russian officials) told parents that they have one hour to think, and that if Ukrainians get there before, they will bring American mercenaries who will beat and rape the children.’

After ‘blackmail, manipulation and intimidation, they take the children away,’ Kharchenko added.

Parents have previously had to embark on the fraught journey themselves to find their children on their own, Kharchenko said.

But for the first time, Save Ukraine group organised a group collection for the separated children by assuming power of attorney for those parents unable to make the journey.

Russia is beleived to have taken more than 16,000 Ukrainian children 

The freed Ukrainian children spoke with reporters after they were returned to Kyiv

They chartered a bus that went through Poland and Belarus and then to Russia, before picking up the children in annexed Crimea.

Some of children interviewed by AFP described a level of political indoctrination.

‘If we didn’t sing the (Russian) national anthem, they made us write an explanatory note. Over the New Year, we were shown Putin’s speech,’ 15-year-old Taisia said.

Zaporozhchenko’s 11-year-old daughter, Yana, said ‘everything was like in normal camps’ but camp officials ‘made us sing and dance when inspectors came’ from Moscow.

Forty-three-year-old Inesa Vertosh said her son had become ‘more serious’ after the long separation.

‘He looks at me and says “Mom, I don’t want to tell you about it, you wouldn’t sleep at night”.’

All children will be given psychological support, said Kharchenko.

Her organisation was ‘doing everything so that children and their parents do not return to dangerous territories’, she added.

One child said Russians would beat them with an iron rod.  

The child said the Russians planned to take them to Pskov where they would be adopted.  

Taya Volynska, right and Yevheniya Kondratievea, left, both 15, were among the children rescued

The children were removed from their homes by Russian officials after their towns and cities were captured earlier in the conflict

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