KHERSON, Ukraine (AP) — Hours after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, medical staff at a children’s hospital in the south began secretly planning how to save a baby.
Russian suspected Catch orphans and send them to RussiaSo the staff of the children’s regional hospital in the city of Kherson began falsifying the orphan’s medical records in order to make it appear that the orphan was sick and unable to move.
Dr. Olga Pilyarska, head of the intensive care unit, said: “We were afraid that we would be known[to the Russians]…[but]we decided to save the children at all costs.”
all through the war Russians have been accused of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-controlled territories and raising them as their own. At least 1,000 children were seized from schools and orphanages in the Kherson region. Their whereabouts are still unknown.
But residents say many more would have gone missing had it not been for the effort to risk their lives to hide as many children as possible.
At Kherson’s hospital, staff invented a disease for the 11 abandoned babies in their care, so they were handed Russian papers and sent the babies to an orphanage knowing they could be taken away. I didn’t have to pass it. One baby had a “pulmonary hemorrhage,” another had “uncontrolled convulsions,” and another needed “ventilation,” she said of the fake records, Pilyarska.
On the outskirts of Kherson in the village of Stepanivka, the director of the social and psychological rehabilitation center, Volodymyr Sahaidak, also forged documents to hide 52 orphaned and vulnerable children. A 61-year-old man left some of his children with seven staff members, others were taken in by distant relatives, and some of the older children stayed with him. It seemed to me that if I didn’t hide them, they would be separated from me,” he said.
But moving them wasn’t easy. After the Russians occupied Kherson and much of the region in his March, they began to separate the orphans at checkpoints, forcing Sahaidak to get creative about how to transport the orphans. In one case, a group of children were treated in a hospital and were taken by her aunt to forge a record of being reunited with their mother, who was nine months pregnant and was waiting for them on the other side of the river.
Sahaidak managed to hold off the Russians, but not all the children were lucky. About 50 children were evacuated in his October from the Kherson orphanage where the hospital should have sent her 11 babies and taken to Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. a security guard at the facility and a neighbor told her Associated Press.
Anastasia Kovalenko, who lives nearby, said: “A bus with a Z (Russian symbol on cars) came and took me away.”
At the beginning of the invasion, local aid groups tried to hide the children in churches, but months later the Russians found them and took them back to the orphanage for refuge, locals said. .
Earlier this year, The Associated Press reported Russia seeks to give thousands of Ukrainian children to Russian families for fostering or adoption It was discovered that he had been deported, lied that his parents didn’t want him, used it for propaganda, and gave him a Russian family and citizenship.
The War Research Institute, a Washington-based think tank, says Russian authorities are conducting a deliberate depopulation campaign in occupied Ukraine, deporting children under the guise of medical rehabilitation schemes and adoption programs. says.
Russian authorities have repeatedly stated that the transfer of children to Russia is aimed at protecting them from hostilities. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has denied allegations that the country detains and deports children. Authorities say they are looking for opportunities to locate relatives of the orphaned children left in Ukraine and, if possible, to repatriate them.
Russia’s Children’s Rights Ombudswoman, Maria Livova-Belova, personally oversaw the adoption of hundreds of orphans from Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine to Russian families. She claims that some of her children were offered the chance to return to Ukraine, but she refused it, and she could not independently verify her statements. .
Aaron Greenberg, UNICEF Regional Advisor for Child Protection in Europe and Central Asia, said each separated child had a living next of kin until the fate of the child’s parents or other next of kin was confirmed. country where children are.
According to Galina Rugova, head of Kherson’s military administration, local and national security and law enforcement agencies are looking for the displaced children, but they still don’t know what happened to them. “We don’t know the fate of these children…we don’t know where the children in the orphanages and in our educational institutions are. This is a problem,” she said.
For now, much of the burden of finding them and bringing them home falls on locals.
In July, Russians took 15 children from the front lines in the nearby Mykolaiv region to a rehabilitation center in Sahaydak and then to Russia, he said. With the help of foreigners and volunteers, he was able to track them down and bring them to Georgia. said the children were expected to return to Ukraine in the coming weeks.
For some, the threat of Russia deporting children has had unintended consequences. In October, when there were signs that the Russians were retreating, Techiana Pavelko, a nurse at a children’s hospital, worried they might take her baby. Unable to have a child of her own, she rushed to the ward and adopted a 10-month-old girl.
Wiping tears of joy from his cheeks, Pavelco said he named the baby Kira after a Christian martyr. “She helped people, healed them, and performed many miracles,” she said.
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