One of the most appalling and perplexing atrocities committed by Vladimir Putin has been the abduction of Ukrainian children. At least 20,000 boys and girls, some just babies, have been separated from their parents and placed in Russian camps, orphanages or foster homes. They are portrayed in Russia as grateful orphans being saved from ‘Kyiv’s war’ – but this is a lie. Most of the deported children have families who are searching for them, desperate to find them and take them back home before their names are changed and they become untraceable.
The abduction of another nation’s children is a form of genocide. But Russia’s population is decreasing and Putin is obsessed with expanding the Russky Mir or ‘Russian World’. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, he launched the ‘Train of Hope’ programme – any willing Russian could adopt an orphan from Crimea. Ukrainian children were deported from Donbas too: some 1,700 of them were ‘evacuated’ within eight years, according to Moscow state media.
The abductions have been carried out by various means. Some parents were duped into believing that their child was being temporarily evacuated – like young Londoners in the Blitz – and would be returned in a few weeks. In other cases, children were whisked off for medical tests, diagnosed with mysterious diseases and taken off for more ‘tests’, never to return. When Russian forces moved into Berislav in the Kherson region, for example, every family was asked to send at least one child to so-called ‘wellness’ camps. Some who refused to do so were labelled bad parents and lost custody of all their children.
One child deported in this way was Vitaliy Vertash, taken from his mother in the early days of the occupation and sent to the Druzhba camp in Crimea.