Nastya is only 15, but she has already “lived a thousand lives”, said Camille Neveux in Le Journal du Dimanche (Paris).
Separated from her family after Russian troops occupied her home in southeastern Ukraine during last year’s invasion, she was deported to a so-called “filtration camp” in Crimea. She was then sent to another camp in Kherson, where she was forced to learn Russian and “violently beaten”.
For her, “the story ends well”: Nastya “miraculously” made it home last week, after finding her mother on social media. But thousands of others haven’t been so lucky, said the Kyiv Post.
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In a new report, the US-based Yale Humanitarian Research Lab says at least 6,000 Ukrainian children, between the ages of 17 and four months old, have been taken from their families to Russian “re-education camps” and “adoption facilities” over the past year. Some of the 43 Russian camps identified are as far away as Siberia; all are designed to brainwash children with pro-Russian propaganda and military-style education.
Russian authorities present this as “a charitable effort” to save Ukrainian children from the “horrors of war”, said Belen Lopez Garrido in Eurovision News (Geneva). But we should be clear what it means: it is kidnapping, abduction.
Some of the kids go to vacation camps and find that their planned return is “suspended”; others are adopted and integrated into the “motherland”. Propaganda videos show these “bewildered children” being collected from trains and greeted with hugs from adults they’ve never even met. This is no act of kindness, said Galia Ackerman in Le Point (Paris): it’s a war crime aimed at erasing Ukrainian identity and restoring Russia’s declining population. It recalls the worst horrors of past conflicts, and must be stopped.
At the centre of this scheme is Maria Lvova-Belova, said Mick Krever on CNN (New York). Made Vladimir Putin’s “commissioner for children’s rights” in 2021, she posts photos showing the “wonderful life” being offered to Ukrainian children. She claims to have adopted a 15-year-old from Mariupol herself.
Ukraine’s government estimates that far more than 6,000 children have been taken, said Colin Freeman in The Daily Telegraph: it puts the figure at at least 14,000. Many, it seems, are orphans (Ukraine has numerous orphanages, “reminiscent of those in 1990s Romania”, a legacy of Soviet rule that Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, has “vowed to end”). Kyiv hopes the Yale report will be a warning to the world; but it fears that many of the children taken to Russia will “never see Ukraine again”.
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