Allegations that the Russian army is abducting Ukrainian children have been circulating for months. But the videos of Sky News seem to substantiate that allegation. The footage shows Russian soldiers searching an orphanage in Kherson. According to Ukrainian authorities, the Russian army took 97 orphans from the city when it withdrew in November. Kidnapping is considered a serious war crime under international law.
Act of resistance
The fact that the Ukrainians resist the kidnappings is evident from the story of Volodimir Sahaidak. The director of an orphanage in Stepanivka, just outside Kherson, said he knew he had to take precautions to protect “his” children as the Russian army approached. “I had seen what the Russians did to orphans in Donbas when they started a civil war there in 2014,” said Sahaidak at Sky News. “We had seen the Russian propagandists say that they should take the orphans to Russia, indoctrinate them in military schools and let them fight for the Russians. That’s why we started hiding children.”
That premonition turned out to be correct: on images of Sky News shows how agents of the Russian secret service FSB and armed soldiers enter the orphanage in search of the 52 children present. “Because they couldn’t find the children, they confiscated all the files,” said Sahaidak. “They took everything because they wanted to know where the children had gone.”
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However, the Russians never found the children: they were all hidden by the villagers. “Some families took in three or four children,” said Sahaidak. “They took the risk that someone would talk their mouths off, and they could be arrested or shot.”
“The children were scared, they didn’t know where they were going”
The Russian authorities sent as many as 15 orphans from other Ukrainian regions to the orphanage in Stepanivka, taking all of them with them when it withdrew from the region. “They had to get into military vehicles and were taken away,” said Oxana, a teacher at the orphanage. “The kids were scared, they didn’t know where they were going.”
From research of Sky News it turns out that the Russians also took children to another orphanage in Kherson. “When the children were brought out, the armored vehicles were already waiting,” says Natalya Kadyrova, a neighbor of that orphanage. “The soldiers watched that no one would film the scene. They were three to five year olds, just preschoolers. That moment haunts me to this day. Of course I’m worried about them, they’re just kids. We don’t know where they are or what happened to them.”
According to the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, the Russian army took a total of 48 orphans from the orphanage in question. A judicial investigation has been opened, and the Ukrainian secret service has also been asked to investigate the matter.
According to the Ukrainian government, a total of 13,000 children have been deported or abducted by Russia since the start of the war.