UKRAINE - 23 February 2024

Abducted: How a grandmother rescued her grandchild from Russia

One Tuesday in April, the unimaginable began for 52-year-old Ludmilla with an alarming phone call from her grandson Sasha. While Ludmilla was living in a safe part of the war-torn Ukraine, Sasha was trapped with his mother in the occupied port city of Mariupol. The Russian troops took Sasha and his mother captive. Sasha was forcibly separated from her and has since disappeared without a trace.

Despite numerous warnings, Ludmilla embarked on an arduous journey of 5,000 kilometers. "I crossed four countries. I only wanted one thing: to bring Sasha home," says the Ukrainian. She says she would never have done this "without the help of SOS Children's Villages". "I am eternally grateful."

SOS Children's Villages’ staff helped the grandmother compile the necessary papers for repatriation and prepared her for the potential dangers. Today, 12-year-old Sasha lives with his grandmother in Chernihiv and attends the local school there. There is still no trace of his mother.

Thousands of children abducted to Russia

Sasha is one of many children and young people abducted from Ukraine - it is a widespread practice in Russian warfare. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, over 19,000 Ukrainian children have already been separated from their parents and taken to Russia.

"The fact that there are more than 19,000 abducted children is a tragedy that has caused unimaginable suffering in Ukraine. Talking to the few children who have returned home, I am heartbroken about the misfortune of the many families affected. To put it bluntly: This is a war crime," says Lanna Idriss, Executive Director of SOS-Kinderdörfer Weltweit (Germany), after her trip to Ukraine in December 2023.

A total of 385 deported children have been returned to Ukraine so far, 84 of them with support from SOS Children's Villages and its partner organizations.

"We support parents and guardians in obtaining the necessary documents," explains Serhii Lukashov, National Director of SOS Children's Villages Ukraine. "We work with them to plan the route, cover the costs, and provide instructions on how to behave at border posts and how to speak to the relevant authorities."

In contrast, the Russian government is doing everything it can to ensure that the missing children cannot be found. "They are given new names, places of birth, and even the date of birth is changed," says Lukashov. Under the pretext of sending the children to safe vacation camps, the occupying forces sometimes even manage to get parents to let their children go voluntarily. Lukashov emphasizes: "These children never return!" Some are even put up for adoption with an expedited procedure.

Parents and families in Ukraine must have the support they need to continue bringing back their missing children.


By Anne Beck,  SOS-Kinderdörfer weltweit 

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