Children from Kherson are being held in Crimea… and Russia refuses to return them
The horrors of the Russian occupation of Kherson did not end after Ukrainian forces liberated it last November. In addition to the constant bombing and the fear of fighting on the city’s borders, the Russians are holding many of the city’s children, who were sent to summer camps in Crimea before the liberation of the city, and are still there. they maintain.
Nadya, whose 14-year-old son was sent to a Russian summer camp in Crimea in October, was quoted by the Guardian as saying she “fears continued detention” of her son by the Russians, after being told he would be back in a week.
In late November, her son sent her a series of chilling voicemails from his camp boss, telling him that he would not be allowed to return to Kherson because of his pro-Ukrainian views.
“You in Russia should not be doing such strange nonsense,” the letters seen by the Guardian read. that’s for sure, and you can thank your mother for that.” .
Like many parents, Nadia did not see sending her child to such a camp as a pro-Russian sentiment. Parents often decided to send their children because their classmates went and offered them a free vacation at the sea.
Her son left Kherson on Oct. 4 and authorities repeatedly extended his stay in the camp, said his mother, who spoke from central Kherson after Russian forces left the city.
First the camp leaders told her it was for security reasons, and then, after Ukrainian forces entered Kherson, they told her she could not return because the city was now “occupied” by Ukraine.
In the letters, the camp commander explained his problem with the boy.
Firstly, his profile picture appeared on Telegram with the national symbol of Ukraine, and secondly, his mother said that she wanted her son to return to Ukraine, which shows that she sees the city of Kherson as part of Ukraine, not Russia, which is in contrast to Russian propaganda that continues to insist that the City is part of Russia.
The newspaper said Nadia’s case is one of many, as there are hundreds of Ukrainian children between the ages of six and 16 from the Kherson and Kharkiv regions who have been stuck in Russian summer camps for weeks, and in some cases months. .
Parents were told they could pick up their children if they came in person, which would require them to pass a dangerous unofficial checkpoint across the front line or leave Ukraine and travel through Poland and the Baltics.
But many parents are from very low income class and could not go on the trip.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the “illegal removal and non-return of children from abroad”, so Russia is obliged to return the children.
The Guardian spoke to eight parents who sent their children to summer camps.
Some say they believe Russia wants to use the children for a Russian prisoner of war exchange, others believe Moscow wants to take the children and plans to keep them in Russia.
There are hundreds of children stuck in Russian-run summer camps, as well as thousands of children living in orphanages in the occupied territories who were illegally transferred to Russia during the Russian occupation.
Russia considers, according to its human rights official, Dmytro Lubinets, that this is part of Russia’s “genocide against Ukraine” and an attempt to erase Ukrainian identity by “re-educating future generations.”
Lubinets said that the Russians are not interested in returning the children, and although Ukraine is trying, “the return of each child is like a special operation.”
But to domestic Russian audiences, Russia is portraying the deportation of children as an attempt to save Ukrainian children from war – ignoring Russia’s role in starting the conflict.
In at least some cases, Russian camp leaders have said they have no plans to return the children.
In other cases, children were moved from one camp to another without informing their parents.
The newspaper states that Ivana, a mother from the Kherson region, traveled a long way to pick up her daughter from a camp in Crimea, only to be told that the child was no longer there and that she had been transferred to a camp in R. Adygea. Having to go on a long journey again, where I finally found it.
It is very difficult to know how many Ukrainian children are still in Russian hands.
In mid-October, the Russian news agency Tass announced that around 4,500 children from Kherson and Zaporozhye are in summer camps in Crimea.
Natalia, another mother with a daughter in the camps, said at least 100 of those who traveled with her daughter were still there.
Recent video footage from some of the five camps in Crimea where children from Kherson are housed show that at least several hundred children are still there.
Part of the problem, the newspaper says, is that many parents refuse to complain to Ukrainian authorities. Dmitro, who managed to get his son back, said that the parents he knew were afraid of being labeled as collaborators or pro-Russians.
He said they were trying to sort things out on their own, without official help.
Volodymyr Zhdanov, Kherson’s new regional authorities adviser on missing persons, asked how parents could “give their children to the occupiers”, although he admitted that it was a gray area and the full picture was not clear.