Thousands of Ukraine’s children lured to ‘Russification’ camps

Thousands of Ukraine’s children lured to ‘Russification’ camps. By Christina Lamb.

When Tatiana Vlaiko’s 11-year-old daughter Lilya came home from school last September saying her class was going to a two-week summer camp, alarm bells immediately rang in her mother’s head.

Their city of Kherson in southern Ukraine was under Russian occupation and the camp was in Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

“I was afraid,” Vlaiko, 36, said. “It’s a war and I told her it might not be so easy to get you back. But her friends were going and she really wanted to go.”

Nor did there seem to be a choice. Consent forms sent by the school instructed parents to bring birth certificates and other documents and be at the river port at 6am the next day for the trip by steamboat across the Black Sea.

Vlaiko, a single mother, kissed Lilya goodbye and left her with the headmaster, then hurried to her job in a butter-processing factory.

Phone connections between Ukraine and Russia are tricky but over the next couple of weeks, she managed to get through a few times. “Lilya shared good things – about seeing dolphins, concerts, places they visited,” she said.

But she also mentioned that everything was in Russian and they had to sing the Russian anthem every morning.

And then, instead of coming home after two weeks, Vlaiko was told her daughter had been moved to another camp. Then another. “I called her teacher, asking what is happening, will you bring them back? But she stopped answering.”

Lilya is among thousands of Ukrainian children abducted and taken to Russia or Crimea over the past year as human spoils of war.

Stealing people:

A report by Yale University last month said more than 6000 children aged between four months and 17 years were being held in 43 camps in a systematic campaign “co-ordinated by Russia’s federal government”. More than two thirds of the facilities, they said, were engaged in “re-education”.

But Daria Herasymchuk, Ukraine’s commissioner for children’s rights, says it is likely to be far more. “Today the Russians say they have 738,000 Ukrainian kids they evacuated – but it’s not evacuation, it’s abduction and brainwashing and it’s an act of genocide,” she says, sitting at her desk in a black sweatshirt proclaiming “I am Ukrainian”.

“We don’t believe it’s as many as that – we have so far documented 16,221 – but I think it’s a few hundred thousand,” she says.


According to Herasymchuk, the Russians use five methods: “Killing parents and taking the children; taking them directly from parents; separating parents and children in so-called filtration camps; tricking them by sending children to sports or health camps; kidnapping from special schools, boarding schools and orphanages.” 

The mass abductions of Ukrainian children are being investigated by Karim Khan, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who was in Ukraine last week and will speak about the issue in Geneva on Thursday.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “Isis snatched Yazidi girls for sex slaves and boys to train as fighters, and Pol Pot forced urban families into the countryside but this is different.

Not what you expected in the 21st century?