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'It's difficult to keep up morale': Ukrainian kids talk about forced deportation to Russia

Veronika (14) is one of six Ukrainian children to give testimony in the Hague about their Russian detention.
Veronika (14) is one of six Ukrainian children to give testimony in the Hague about their Russian detention. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Sandor Zsiros
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The Ukrainian government says that there are thousands of Ukrainian kids who were forced to go to Russia amid the war.


Veronika lived near Kharkiv in early 2022 and when the war in Ukraine started, she fled her home, ending up in a refugee camp in Russia.

"From September I went to a normal Russian school with normal Russian children. What was striking is that Russian children accused (me) of being responsible that their parents were mobilised and sent to war," the 14-year-old Ukrainian told Euronews from The Hague in the Netherlands.

"They also said that I was more stupid than them because I am Ukrainian, and that I was behind them with the studies".

She came back to Ukraine nine months later but her return was difficult because her mother was serving in the Ukrainian army and because of the stress she suffered from a hormonal disease.

Now she's one of six Ukrainian children who gave testimony about forced deportation to Russia during the war.

'I have lost this feeling that I can achieve something'

The children were greeted by teddy bears - mascots of the movement fighting for the return of abducted Ukrainian children.

The organisation Orphans Feeding Foundation has started the Bring Kids Back UA programme to repatriate Ukrainian kids. They've started a European advocacy tour to gain support for the campaign.

Another one of the Ukrainians in The Hague this week, Ivan, lived in an orphanage in Mariupol.

When he fled the bombings, he was captured by Russian forces and transferred to a hospital in the occupied Donetsk region.

"As you can imagine, before the war I was a child with many dreams. I wanted to accomplish something in my life. I was taking my studies seriously, I was busy with football and boxing. I made plans for the future," the 17-year-old told Euronews.

Before the war I was a child with many dreams. I wanted to accomplish something in my life.
17-year-old Ukrainian

"Since the war started, since I returned back from Donetsk, I have lost this feeling that I can achieve something. I try to manage, but it's very difficult to keep up morale," he added.

"There will always be a mark on me. A kind of scar that I have that will never disappear, that will always stay with me. Because a part of my childhood was claimed by war".

Veronika and Ivan are among the 386 Ukrainian minors who were returned to their homeland but the Ukrainian government has identified another 19,546 Ukrainian children forcibly deported and held in Russia or in the occupied territories.

"The procedure of returning Ukrainian children back was absolutely hard and blocked by the Russian side. So we did a lot. And I suppose we will do a lot still," Dmytro Lubinets, Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, told Euronews.

In early 2023 the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin because of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.

This article has been updated to include the name of the organisation working to repatriate Ukrainian kids.

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