Russia takes Ukrainian children prisoner in 'first wave of deportation'
As feared, Russia and its local collaborators are refusing to return Ukrainian children who were supposedly sent on holiday or to study in Russia or occupied Crimea. Parents of children sent from Enerhodar (Zaporizhzhia oblast) to the Krasnodar region have been told that their children are being held in Russia for an unspecified period. Dmytro Orlov, Mayor of Enerhodar, says that the messages ask parents to send warm clothes and purportedly ‘reassure’ them that their children will go to school in Russia. The children are thus, effectively, being held hostage and will be subjected to indoctrination by the country waging war against their country.
In commenting on the situation with children from Enerhodar, Ivan Fedorov, Mayor of Melitopol, noted that attempts by the Russian occupiers in Melitopol to send children to occupied Crimea or Russia had failed due to resistance from parents. Fedorov warns all Ukrainian parents living in areas under occupation against handing over their children. “There is a very high likelihood that the rashists [as the invaders are generally called] will hold them as a human shield and will not bring them home”.
These tactics have already been seen in parts of Kharkiv oblast that were under Russian occupation until early September. During a press conference on 24 October, Yury Sobolevsky, First Deputy Head of the Kherson Regional Council, reported that Russia is now forcibly holding Ukrainian children from occupied parts of both Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. The Russian-installed ‘administrations’ of occupied cities claim that the children will be returned, but that the parents must themselves go to the various parts of Russia or occupied Crimea to get them. It seems likely that both parents and children would then be prevented from returning. Sobolevsky is blunt that Russia has taken the children hostage. He says that the Russians have organized deportation from Kherson oblast in several waves and believes that the removal of Ukrainian children should be viewed as the first wave. He is convinced that Russia is using such tactics in order to improve its own dire demographic situation and that the Ukrainian children are viewed as future soldiers for Russia’s army.
The Centre for Journalist Investigations has also spoken with people who confirm that they are finding it impossible to get their children back. A woman from Henichesk (Kherson oblast), who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said that the invaders were trying to justify the refusal to return the children as claiming this was for safety reasons because it’s dangerous at present in Kherson oblast. Attempts to use this as an excuse are not only cynical, coming from the aggressor state, but also evidently false when Russia is actively preventing Ukrainians from leaving the area for government-controlled Ukraine.
There are simply no grounds for believing that the interests of the children themselves are of any concern, and there have been cases where parents have lost any contact with their children.
Halyna Luhova, Head of the Kherson military administration, is calling on parents to resist any attempts to get them to send their children to Russia or occupied Crimea. She cannot understand, she says, how you can hand over a child’s birth certificate (as is demanded) and send him or her ‘on holiday’ when the children are taken away by coach at gunpoint.
If the Russian-installed ‘education ministry for the Kherson oblast’ is to be believed, in October alone two and a half thousand schoolkids were sent to ‘sanatoria’ in Russia from Kherson oblast.
As reported, there were similar situations in occupied parts of Kharkiv oblast. There parents explained their decision to allow the children to be sent away as motivated by concern for their children’s safety and psychological well-being in conditions of war.
It should also be stressed that Russia is deliberately making this a choice between sending the children to the aggressor state or subject them to ongoing warfare and trauma. The invaders are also making it extremely difficult, and dangerous, to leave occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts for government-controlled territory, or to remain. Oleksandr Starukh, Head of the Zaporizhzhia Regional Administration, reported on 27 October that only 90 people had been able to leave during the previous 24 hours.
On 24 October, the Russians opened fire at a checkpoint on a car with two children inside. The driver and his son were killed, with only the little girl surviving.
This kind of terror, as well as Russia’s relentless bombing of civilian targets, accentuate the cynicism behind the invaders’ pretence that they are keeping children in Russia or occupied Crimea out of concern for their safety.