Ukrainian children rescued from Russia fear for friends left behind

Kyiv officials estimate Russia continues to detain around 20,000 illegally deported children.
Posted at 8:53 PM, Apr 10, 2023

The rescue took days, over thousands of miles and multiple border crossings for 31 Ukrainian children to finally be free from Russian-controlled camps. The latest group arrived on Saturday. Some were accompanied by their parents who traveled into Russia to retrieve them. 

But they were but a tiny fraction of those minors Ukraine hopes to repatriate. Kyiv officials estimate Russia continues to detain around 20,000 illegally deported children.   

Alyona Baran and Iryna Shevtsova, two mothers from Kherson, came to Kyiv to meet the bus bringing their children back to Ukraine. Six months ago, they sent their teenagers to a free camp in Russian-occupied Crimea for what they thought would be two weeks. Shevtsova says her son wanted to go to the camp.

"In Kherson, we live in an area where there was constant shelling. I told my son that I was afraid to send him. And he said the school’s director is waiting and you just need to give him power of attorney," Shevtsova said. 

But two weeks turned into six months of their children being held against their will in camps where pro-Russian indoctrination is a main activity. 

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"When they weren't returned on time, I started to worry. I started calling," says Shevtsova. "They told me that, due to the hostilities in Kherson, they can’t be returned."

Two organizations, Operation Hope and Save Ukraine, took on their case, which eventually led to the tearful reunion in Kyiv on Saturday.

The next day Shevtsova's son, Bodhan, who's 13 years old, told Scripps News that he was shocked when he discovered the camp was nothing like what his school director promised. 

"There were about 1000 children there when we arrived. There was very bad food," Bohdan says. "We had two showers and two toilets for 50 people."

He’s worried for the Ukrainian children the Russians still hold there.

"When we were taken, there were 15 children left in the camp," he says. "Some of them have no parents; some have parents in prison. My friend, when we were leaving, got news from the counselors that the ones who stayed would be adopted."