The children left here, in Balaklia, in August for a free summer camp for the Russian occupiers. They will receive gifts and, above all, they will be safe from the incessant bombardment.
“The camp will last two or three weeks, and then the children will return,” says 29-year-old Nadya Borisenko. Her 12-year-old daughter, Daria, was one of 25 children from this small town in northeastern Ukraine who boarded a bus to the summer camp.
But Russia did not return them. Daria and the other children are now on the other side of the border in Russia, and Moscow is making it very difficult for families to get their children back.
The Ukrainian government counts 11,461 children who were taken to Russia or Russian-controlled areas without their families. According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, there are tens of thousands of other children whose fates are known indirectly or less accurately.
The abduction of thousands of children is a stark reminder that this is no ordinary armed conflict. These may be war crimes. It should be a warning to Americans and Europeans who are no longer interested in supporting Ukraine. Do we want to let child thieves get their way?
Russia does not hide the transfer of Ukrainian children. She even flaunts it in her TV commercial. He poses as the savior of abandoned children, with pictures of Russians handing out teddy bears to Ukrainian boys and girls.
Maria Lvova Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, proudly announced last month that she had adopted a Ukrainian boy. Many of the kidnapped children appear to have been adopted by Russian families.
This is not charity. It might be genocide. A 1948 international treaty states that the “forcible transfer of children” with intent to destroy nationality is a form of genocide.
However, the situation is also accurate. She manages to reach Daria on her cell phone and she doesn’t look like a traditional prisoner: she has friends, goes to school and is allowed to call her mother every night. But she really wants to go home to Ukraine. “I always miss my home,” she says.
The Russian authorities allow parents to collect their children, but only if they travel to Russia via Poland and then on to other countries. This means parents must collect passports and other documents – even if their home and belongings are destroyed by Russian bombs – and they have to spend a lot while the war impoverishes them. Some parents have succeeded, but most have not.
“Theft of our children is, of course, a war crime,” said Dementiev Mykola, the local prosecutor. And they are committing another crime by making it difficult for children to return.” He explains that the summer camp was attractive because it seemed the only way to get children to safety from Russian bombing. If the Russians wanted it, he adds, they could open humanitarian corridors to bring the children back.
Another mother in Balaklia, sister-in-law of Nadia Borisenko, Victoria Borisenko, has a 12-year-old son, Bohdan, who is in the camp. She says he’s telling on the phone that he and the others are being treated well, but they want him back. “They are crying and want to go home.”
The best explanation I can think of is that Russia is stealing these children to use as propaganda in their TV propaganda. Then don’t return the props. Many children were taken from institutions such as children’s homes, boarding schools, and hospitals. Their parents or relatives were not asked.
Olena Matvienko told me about Ilya, her ten-year-old grandson, and his mother, Natalya. They were together in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol and were badly wounded by shrapnel. Elijah saw his mother die before his eyes. Russian soldiers grabbed the boy and took him not to a local hospital but to the Donetsk People’s Republic of Russian-backed separatists. The family had no idea what had happened to the mother and son until a relative in Russia saw a report on Russian television about the heroic doctors in Donetsk who saved Ilya’s life.
“They kidnapped him,” says Matvienko. “He was taken by force.” She says that the Russian authorities have prepared documents for the adoption of Illya in Russia. Matvienko traveled to Russia via Poland and Turkey to retrieve her grandson.
“It was pure coincidence that this video appeared on TV and our family watched it,” she said. “Otherwise, he would have become a Russian boy and grew up in a different family.”
Children are not spoils of war. The government should not steal thousands of children. These core principles illustrate the moral commitment to the war in Ukraine. It is important for the world to unequivocally side with the good – and to bring Daria back home to her mother.
© The New York Times