Ukraine’s Stolen Children: Thousands Separated, Few Reunited

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s been more than two years of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As the fighting continues, another battle is being fought: reuniting Ukrainian kids with their families. Ukrainian officials claim tens of thousands of children have been deported or taken by Russia as a way to erase their Ukrainian identity. We met up with a handful of kids who have been reunited with their families. 

13-year-old Sasha recalls the time he pleaded with Russian soldiers to give him a phone to call his grandmother, hoping to be reunited with her. When the war started two years ago, he was living in Mariupol, one of the hardest hit places. Sasha said he was separated from his mother in what he called a ‘filtration camp’. Sasha, along with two other Ukrainian kids with similar stories, are meeting with leaders in the US, sharing what happened to them when they were separated from their families.  

“So these children are not missing,” said Daria Herasymchuk, Ukraine’s Presidential  
Commissioner for Children’s Rights and Child Rehabilitation. “We need to speak about these children being abducted.” She said tens of thousands of children have been forcibly taken by Russia. Ukrainian officials said the kids are taken to camps or institutions in Russia or in Russian-controlled territory. They are calling it a war crime.  

“Everybody should know Russian aggression has displaced and forceable transferred the Ukrainian children they deported them as part of the big crime,” said Herasymchuk. “It’s called genocide. Everybody needs to understand this is a well-planned, well developed Russian policy, genocide policy, for Ukrainian people through Ukrainian children. These children are being abducted.” 

By their count, a little under 400 kids have been returned.  

“Quite frankly the most despicable thing a country can do,” said Nathan Tek, deputy spokesperson for the State Department. “A campaign of forced state sanctioned kidnapping, deporting them and separating them from their families.”

Tek adds what Russia is doing is contrary to international law.  

“We’ve put forward a lot of sanctions to call out and to hinder this activity to hold those accountable or responsible,” said Tek. “We will continue to work with international legal mechanisms to ensure that there is a prosecution for those who are responsible for these horrific actions. We’re gonna continue to look at this issue and do everything that we can.” 

As for these kids, they consider themselves to be the lucky ones. Speaking in front of Ukraine’s Ambassador, researchers and others in DC, Sasha, who has since been reunited with his grandma, asks for help. He wants someone to help him find his mom.