Ukraine denounces 'kidnapping' of children transferred to Russia | War in Ukraine

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Ukraine denounces the “kidnapping” of children transferred to Russia | War in Ukraine

Kiev accuses Moscow for kidnapping 16,000 minors since the invasion began last year.

Kiev accuses Moscow of kidnapping 16,000 minors since the invasion began last year.

In the middle of Siberia, Roman Vinogradov plays with a group of children, while his wife, Ekaterina, reads a story to the little ones. Of the 16 children they care for, five come from Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.

The couple, met by AFP in Novosibirsk 3,000 kilometers from Ukraine, say their mission is simple: to help these children in need.

Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, international organizations accuse the Russian authorities of orchestrating the forced displacement of thousands of Ukrainian minors, which President Volodymyr Zelensky called a war crime and against the #x27;humanity, seeing in it kidnappings, forced adoptions and re-education of Ukrainians.

Russia, of course, claims to protect refugee children.

What does “stealing” mean? I haven't robbed anyone, Vinogradov insists, and the kids don't think they were robbed either.

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Difficult to sit at the same table all the members of the Vinogradov family…

He and his wife tell AFP how they found each other since ;summer 2022 responsible for five Ukrainian children, who joined their four children and seven others placed in their family.

All are from Lugansk, one of the regions occupied by the Russia, and where Moscow sponsored an armed conflict as early as 2014 by supporting separatists there.

Russian social services called us to ask: "Would you like to take children from Ukraine?", recalls Ekaterina Vinogradova.

We have says, “OK, we'll welcome them,” the 38-year-old continues. What difference does it make? Children remain children. Their nation doesn't matter, she argues.

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The children themselves do not consider themselves to have been stolen, argue Pastor Vinogradov and his wife.

The couple has therefore been hosting five Ukrainian children for six months, four girls and a boy aged between three and twelve. All have the same mother, who was deprived of her parental authority, and different fathers.

AFP journalists saw this quintet of Ukrainian half-sisters and brothers having fun with other children, sledding, for example, or helping with chores, clearing snow around home or helping to prepare the meal.

According to documents seen by AFP and signed by the authorities of Lugansk, territory which Moscow is now claiming annexation, the five children were placed in different institutions in the Lugansk region before being transferred. be transferred to Russia and then placed with the Vinogradovs.

According to Roman, the children no longer remember their mother.

“The time will come when they will ask questions [about their past]. So we'll do some research. Maybe we'll arrange a meeting.

— Ekaterina Vinogradova, adoptive mother

Roman explains that children need time to feel secure in their new home.

In kindergarten, they worried about whether they would be picked up, he says. They were asking, "when are you coming [to pick us up]" and "are you really coming or not?".

Under international law, no party to a conflict can evacuate children to a foreign country, except temporarily for compelling health or safety reasons.

In a report released on Monday, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for a concerted international effort to enable the return of these children to Ukraine.

“The return of children illegally abducted by Russian forces should be an international priority.

— Bill Van Esveld, Associate Director for Children's Rights at HRW

For its part, Kyiv accuses Moscow of lying to hide these minors and return their return not possible.

The Russians refuse to acknowledge that these children were deported. Russia is hiding our children, hammered again last week Daria Gerasimchuk, the children's commissioner of the Ukrainian presidency.

According to her, Ukraine has identified 43 centers in Russia accommodating these minors.

Children are being moved [from town to town] all the time, she told AFP, we have evidence of the scale of the efforts Russia has undertaken to make family reunification impossible.

According to Daria Gerasimchuk, it is wrong to say that only orphans were taken to Russia. Of the 16,000 children she accuses Moscow of sending to her territory, only 138 were in orphanages.

She explains that others were separated from their parents by the war or voluntarily by the Russians who set up filtration camps in the newly conquered territories.

Moscow assures for its part that it only thinks of the well-being of the children victims of the conflict, like its person in charge of children, Maria Lvova-Belova who herself revealed in February to television in front of President Vladimir Putin approving of having adopted a child from the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol (south).

Ms Gerasimchuk says that Kiev therefore tried to put shelter children in institutions in areas threatened by the Russian military.

“We were sending these kids from homes to foster families so the Russians couldn't identify them and move them. But it didn't always work.

—Daria Gerasimchuk, Children's Commissioner of the Ukrainian Presidency

Volodymyr Sagaïdak, director of a home in Kherson, a southern city taken over in November by the Ukrainian army after nearly nine months under Russian control, told AFP that the authorities of occupation questioned him about the children and seized his files.

No one said they wanted to take the children. But I would say it was a disguised form of deportation, like saying, “Come on, let's go on a trip”, “Let's go have fun in Crimea”. (south), Ukrainian region under Russian control since 2014, he explained to AFP during a meeting in January.

A teacher from the home of reception, Oksana Koval, said that after the Russian conquest of Kherson in the first days of the invasion, the leaders of the center rushed to place the children with relatives or with the personnel of the center. x27;institution in order to hide them.

Oksana herself took in three daughters.

The Russians did not know that we had children. They were told the parents had picked them up, recalls the 49-year-old woman.

Only one thing mattered to us: saving those children.

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