For months, Ukraine has been telling everyone who will listen that Russia had a plan to steal Ukrainian children and take them to Russia to turn them against their country.
According to the Ukrainian government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the number of children missing in Ukraine is greater than 16,000.
According to them, the Russian brainwashing program dates back to 2014 when the conflict began. Since then, more than 700,000. children have been illegally relocated.
Some parents are so desperate that they will travel thousands of miles to bring their children home from Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Crimea.
Lyudmila Motychak and her 15-year old daughter Anastasia met me in a Kyiv refugee hostel.
Lyudmila had been on this difficult journey. But Lyudmila was happy to show me the video of them reunited outside a Russian children’s facility in Crimea after months apart.
Ukraine war: Latest arrest warrant for Putin to ‘could hasten he removal’
Lyudmila, who was skeptical from the beginning, described how she was tricked by Russian-supporting authorities in Kherson, Crimea into letting her daughter take a school trip.
She stated that she was told it would be a camp and that the children would be there for two weeks. They told us to not worry and that they would bring back our children, as there were many children going.
“I was afraid to let my daughter go from the start. They insisted that everything would be fine, even though I said it was a war and she shouldn’t go.
They told me to not worry. Everything will be fine. They assured me that there’s no war, there’s no hunger, they will give them food five times per day, which is good for their health.
Lyudmila realized something was more sinister two weeks later, when her daughter didn’t return.
“They said it would be good for my child but there wasn’t anything like that there,”
Compelled to sing Russia’s national song
Lyudmila described how Lyudmila called up teachers and the director at the educational college her daughter attended. They kept promising her that she would return at some point but that it had become an evacuation due to the war.
Anastasia, her daughter, goes by Nastya. She told us that she left Kherson on a convoy consisting of 100 buses each with 30-40 children. This is more than 3,000 children in one trip.
She described the opportunity as a “summer camp” even though it was October.
She says it was not like that.
She described how they were made to sing the Russian national anthem, and followed strict instructions.
“They told us that they were feeding you, giving you water, and providing comfort and heating, but you are so inconsiderate.”
“They confiscated balloons that we had in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. They also shouted at us, saying, “We are ungrateful” and “Go back to your fascists”.
Should Putin be detained and tried for war crimes?
Meet a woman charged with following the Russian president to the dock
“I want Putin to Die”: Anger after dozens Russian missiles struck Kyiv
After two weeks, Nastya asked for permission to go home. But the authorities wanted her to stay put.
She stated that “they started delaying us and telling us this date…you will return home, don’t worry.
“But we didn’t go when these dates came.
“They started to tell us dates but we never left.
“Then, they said it was an evacuation. Finally, they said that we must stay indefinitely and that only our parents could come to rescue us.”
Lyudmila & Nastya were able reunite with the support of Save Ukraine, an NGO in Ukraine that assists families to travel to Russia and the occupied territory to retrieve their children.
“Indoctrination for our children”
Lyudmila believes that it was always Lyudmila’s plan to take the children and then try and convince the parents to do the same – and stay.
She stated that they took the children and wanted parents to be with them. Then they promised money and homes and apartments and financial assistance.
“Of course, they wanted people to think the same way as them. They wanted people to follow their lead and join them.”
According to Save Ukraine and the Ukrainian authorities, this is part of Russia’s detailed strategy to take Ukraine’s children.
Olga Yerokhina, spokesperson for Save Ukraine, said that “We consider it reeducation and indoctrination. And when I think about the children who haven’t had any parents for other reasons, how will they find them?
“We have to look at it from the perspective historical. This is nothing new, and the whole thing was planned. They have a larger policy against Ukraine and they are using children as a tool.
I asked her if it was part of a well-planned plan.
She responded: “Yes, we understand that it wasn’t just about the full-scale invasion of 2022, but it was also prepared long before that.”
It is not possible to know the exact number of children who fled Ukraine or were forcibly removed. They may never be seen again.
However, the International Criminal Court(ICC) may bring someone to justice. Olga Yerokhina is requesting justice and a concerted international plan.
She stated, “We have a lot to do.
“We hope that the international community, Poland and the United Nations can work together to create a mechanism for these children to be returned.
“We are realistic. We may not be able to do it all, but we must do everything we can.