Ukrainian mum forced to send daughter, 11 to Putins re-education camp

One of Russia’s top priorities since Vladimir Putin sent his invading army into Ukraine in February 2022 has been to abduct and “re-educate” Ukrainian children.

As many as 300,000 Ukrainian children have been taken away from their parents and sent to “Summer camps” in Russia – some as far east as the North Korean border.

Dmytro Lubinets, a Ukrainian human rights activist, says that many of these children have already been forcibly adopted by Russian families.

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In other cases, the children have been preyed on by paedophiles.

Inessa Vertash from Beryslav southern Ukraine, told The Times that her teenage son Vitaliy had complained of widespread sexual abuse in the Russian camps: “He told me camp workers were forcing 13-year-old Ukrainian girls to have sex with them,” she said.

The children taken to Russia were told that their parents had deliberately sent them away: “They told the children your parents have left Ukraine and are never coming for you,” Inessa said.

Another Ukrainian mum, Tatiana Vlaiko, from Kherson, told how her 11-year-old daughter Lilya was sent on a “school trip” into occupied Crimea last September.

“I was afraid,” she said. “It’s a war and I told her it might not be so easy to get you back. But her friends were going and she really wanted to go.”

Telephone connections between Ukraine and Russian territory – especially in a time of war – can be unreliable. But Tatiana managed to call her daughter a few times.

“Lilya shared good things — about seeing dolphins, concerts, places they visited,” she said.

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But when the “two week” trip came to an end, Lilya did not come home.

Instead, Tatiana says, she was moved around between several camps in Russia. “I called her teacher, asking what is happening,” she said. “But she stopped answering.”

Daria Herasymchuk, Ukraine’s commissioner for children’s rights, says that Lilya is one of many children who have been snatched away from their parents and forced to “become Russian”.

“Today the Russians say they have 738,000 Ukrainian kids they evacuated — but it’s not evacuation, it’s abduction and brainwashing and it’s an act of genocide,” she says

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She says that while the official Russian figure is almost certainly an exaggeration, she thinks “a few hundred thousand” Ukrainian kids have been stolen from their parents.

Even the children who remained at home will carry the trauma of this brutal war for a lifetime. “Seven and a half million children have been affected by this war,” Daria says.“Every child has heard an air-raid siren, hidden in a basement, and has a family member fighting. Many have been forced to leave their home…”

She says it’s a deliberate policy in order to erase Ukraine from the map: “This is what the Russians do: try to break our children psychologically because they are the future of Ukraine. It will be a massive problem after the war”.

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