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“Abducted Childhood”: A documentary revealing life inside Russia’s Ukrainian child brainwashing program

First-hand accounts depict the hunger, homesickness, and violence kidnapped kids endure at propaganda centers training them to be Russian. One boy, forcefully adopted into Russia, has never seen his mother again.
A Ukrainian child. Source: UkrInform
“Abducted Childhood”: A documentary revealing life inside Russia’s Ukrainian child brainwashing program

Sashko, 12, and his mother, Snizhana, were trapped in Mariupol during the early days of the city’s siege in March 2022 and were left without water, heating, and gas. Like other residents of Mariupol, the Ukrainian boy and his family had to stand for hours on the freezing streets to cook food on an open fire. At the same time, deadly Russian bombardments repeatedly targeted civilian buildings and critical infrastructure.

One day Sashko was standing outside his apartment when another Russian strike hit the city. The boy desperately screamed and called for help as he felt intense pain in his eye. Sashko’s mother quickly ran to him and hid him behind garages while the bombardment raged on.

When the attack stopped, Snizhana took the boy to a local plant, a place of resistance to the Russian invasion. Day and night, Ukrainian soldiers in the facility repulsed the invaders’ attacks while military medics helped the injured. The doctors provided Sashko with all the medical aid he needed and treated his eye.

However, shortly after the military ran out of ammunition, the plant was occupied, and Sashko and his mother found themselves in Russian captivity.

Russian troops moved them to one of the filtration camps, where civilians who attempted to leave the occupied territories of Ukraine were forced to live for days or even months.

Russian war crimes: “denazifying” Ukrainians through deportation, torture, detention and filtration camps

People who survived the filtration camps said that occupiers used those places to register, interrogate, detain, and deport Ukrainian citizens.

Sashko and Snizhana were taken to the filtration camp in the Bezimenne village, Donetsk Oblast, which Vadym Boychenko, the city’s mayor, called “a ghetto for Mariupol’s residents.”

According to him, “unreliable people” whom Russian troops recognized as “suspicious” were tortured and deprived of medical help in that camp. The mayor’s adviser Petro Andriushchenko also confirmed the cases of torture, adding that Ukrainian nationals “disappear” in the filtration camps in Donetsk Oblast.

When they arrived in Bezimenne, little Sashko and his mother were separated. The boy waited for several hours to reunite with his closest person. But instead, the occupiers said he would be sent to an orphanage and eventually adopted by a Russian family.

“I wasn’t even given a chance to say goodbye to my mother,” Sashko recalls. Ukraine managed to return the boy from Russian captivity but since that day in the Bezimenne camp, he has never seen Snizhana again.

This is just one of the numerous stories featured in a new Ukrainian documentary, created with the support of the Сommissioner of the President of Ukraine for Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation, Daria Herasymchuk, and the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets.

“Abducted Childhood” sheds light on Russian crimes against Ukrainian children that may be qualified as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” by the International Criminal Court.

How Ukraine is preparing a Tribunal for Putin

In this film, which is available on Youtube with English subtitles, human rights experts expose the insidious methods the Kremlin uses to brainwash children as part of its deliberate policy to erase Ukrainian identity.

We have analyzed at least five scenarios of children’s abduction. Now we are investigating the sixth one,” says Ukraine’s ombudsman on children’s rights, Daria Herasymchuk.

“In the first scenario, Russian soldiers kill the parents and take the children.

In the second scenario, children are removed from their families. Often this is done by revoking parental rights from “troublesome parents” who do not want to cooperate with the occupation authorities.”

The third scenario is when Russians separate children from their families during so-called filtration processes.

The fourth scenario is when Russian troops create poor living conditions for children in temporarily occupied areas.

The fifth scenario is the most frequent. Russian troops create deplorable living conditions and then force parents to sign documents and send their children to recreational camps inside Russia. According to the documents, children must be returned to their families in two or three weeks but the children never return from these camps,” she explains.

In the camps, which are intermediate points for children to be adopted in Russia, children are deprived of food, manipulated during “conversations about important things” propaganda lessons, and subjected to torture.

“They gave us small portions of food. Half of the children were malnourished. Some patties seemed to be made from scraps. Many children were sick. It was safer not to eat anything.”

“We had ‘conversations about important things’ every day. They told us that Russia was ‘powerful’ and Ukraine was ‘nothing,’ that it would be destroyed, and that Zelenskyy (the Ukrainian president) was a drug addict. Once, they beat a boy with a stick in a basement after he said, ‘Glory to Ukraine!’,” the victims of forced deportation recall.

The abduction of Ukrainian kids has been enshrined in Russian legislation. In May 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that simplified the process of adopting Ukrainian orphans or children left without parental care and giving them Russian citizenship.

“Russians are attempting to reclassify all Ukrainian children from their Ukrainian ethnic status to Russian ethnicity. To achieve this, they have changed their legislation. Practically, Putin has already committed a war crime — genocide — with these actions,” says Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets.

Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine has returned only 385 children out of 19,592 forcibly deported by Russian troops. Diplomatic solutions don’t work with Russia and the world needs to react, experts say. New mechanisms to release innocent victims must be implemented to speed up their return process, they add.

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President, Maria Lvova-Belova.

ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes

The court found them responsible for committing war crimes, particularly the unlawful deportation and transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia from at least 24 February 2022.


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