For families living in war zones, the offer sounds compelling: send your children to Russia for a summer camp to enjoy the weather, relax and swim in the ocean.
Russian forces occupied a village in Ukraine and accepted 13 families’ parents.
A bus arrived at 6 a.m. on 28 August, and picked up the children. They drove them hundreds of miles to camp on the Russia’s Black Sea Coast.
It was intended to be for a three week break.
Halfway through, however, the Russian occupation of their village was abruptly ended by a counteroffensive from Ukraine in the Kharkiv region.
The Russian forces withdrew without returning the children.
Two mothers, one 13-year-old and the other nine-year old, are devastated.
Natalia Med said, “I am so concerned,” standing in her living room in Kozacha Lopan. She is a rural village that’s surrounded by fields stretching up to the border of Russia and Ukraine.
The wall features several photos of Karina, Karina’s 13-year-old daughter. She is a beautiful girl with long, blonde locks. Her mother described her to be sensitive, friendly and fun.
She said, “I just want her home as soon possible so that I can hug and kiss her,” before starting to weep, wiping away her tears.
Tetiana Hlahola (38), is the second mother and she too is desperate for news.
Polina, her nine-year-old daughter disappeared in the same way on the holiday bus.
She said, “It’s very difficult because it isn’t clear what I should do.” “We ask everyone for help… I don’t know what she will feel right now.”
She shared a video of her daughter dancing on her husband’s cell phone. It was only a few days before she went.
“We hugged. We hugged and wished each other well. “We kissed, and she went,” Tetiana said about the moment they said good-bye.
“No one knew it would be so hard to get her back.”
Russia is accused of forcing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to relocate during the conflict. Although there is no evidence that the camp was used to kidnap children, Moscow doesn’t seem to be doing much in order to reunite those children who remain stranded.
Parents were told by the Russian forces controlling the village that the Medvezhonok camp would provide a peaceful break from the constant shelling and rocket fire. It was located near the border.
Natalia found a Russian newspaper at her house that had an article about the trip and a photo of Karina departing for the camp.
The mother stated, “We trusted them,”
Karina said Karina spent a week debating whether she should go, as she didn’t want to leave her mother. She decided to go because three of her friends had signed up.
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The mother recalled the conversation and said that she had told Karina, “Sweetheart don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” She was crying on the bus. So was I. She was gone.”
Locals in the village claimed that the 11 other sets of parents who sent their children to the camp had decided to go with the Russians after they fled.
Natalia stated that she would go to Russia to retrieve her daughter, but only if there was a guarantee that they would be allowed back home.
She said, “I will accept any chance, any lead, and if it could help me,” She is devoted to obtaining information from the Ukrainian authorities.
Tetiana is also doing the same. She stated that she can’t afford to travel to Russia, and doesn’t have a passport.
“I believed they [the Russians] would deport Polina, and send her home. They need children from other people. She asked.
She stated that she hopes Russia does not keep her daughter intentionally.
She said, “We don’t think they could be” so cruel.
Tetiana sent a message to her daughter directly: “Polina! My daughter, if I see you, please don’t worry, don’t be nervous. You will be brought home by your mother and father.
“Be a fighter. …. You understand what these words are. We’ll bring you back. I promise. Just don’t worry. We love you so much.”
Natalia had also left a message to her daughter: “Daughter,” she said. Don’t worry. You are safe. You are my love and I will always get you back. “I am sorry that you had to wait so long.”