I feared I'd never see my my son again when he went to Crimea
I feared I’d never see my son again when he went to Russia-occupied Crimea for a holiday camp – where children were ‘forced to speak Russian and faced gruelling conditions’
- The mother told the programme how she feared for her son after he left Kherson
- Ukraine’s Stolen Children is on ITV1 & ITVX at 10.45pm tonight
- READ MORE: The abomination of Ukraine’s 19,000 stolen children: They’re told they are going on holiday – but most never return… Instead, they are indoctrinated, threatened and forcibly adopted by Russians
A Ukrainian woman whose son was taken into Russia-occupied Crimea, 200 miles from home, into a ‘holiday camp’ for respite from shelling after Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded the nation has spoken out about their ordeal.
Speaking to Ukraine’s Stolen Children, which is on ITV1 & ITVX at 10.45pm tonight, Alla Yatsetyuk detailed the arduous journey of getting her 14-year-old son back.
‘It deeply affected me mentally,’ she told the programme. ‘I blamed myself for not insisting he didn’t go there…These emotions will stay with me forever – the experience of that separation.’
The new documentary from award-winning filmmaker Shahida Tulaganova recounts the heartbreaking stories of Ukrainian children – some of whom are orphans – who were taken to Russia once the occupation began and told it would lead them to safety from shelling.
Instead, they faced gruelling conditions, were forced to speak Russian, and fed lies about how their parents abandoned them.
Speaking to Ukraine’s Stolen Children, which is on ITV1 & ITVX at 10.45pm tonight, Alla Yatsetyuk (right) detailed the arduous journey of getting her 14-year-old son (left) back
Danil left for the camp in October 2022, when the Ukrainian army had made progress in pushing Russian forces out of Kherson.
Violence in the city was rife and some parents received offers from school – which became Russian-controlled – providing their kids with safety in ‘holiday camps by the seaside’ for two weeks.
Alla reluctantly allowed Danil – who wanted to go – to take part, but quickly realised she needed to get him back home.
‘I tried to contact the camp where Danil was living but no one would respond,’ she said. ‘Every time I asked about my child, they either hung up the phone or claimed that the number was unavailable.’
The camp was located in Crimea nearly 200 miles from home – and according to Danil, 3,000-4,000 children stayed there.
‘The Chief of Security told us that we’d be staying there for a year,’ he said. ‘Because the Russians had left Kherson, and it wasn’t safe for us children to be returned to Ukrainian soldiers.’
Alla (pictured) reluctantly allowed Danil – who wanted to go – to take part, but quickly realised she needed to get him back home
Alla desperately looked for ways she could get back to Danil, eventually finding out about charity Save Ukraine, which was helping reunite mothers and children
And while the teenager was there, Kherson was liberated from Russian forces, making it impossible for parents to bring their children back.
Alla desperately looked for ways she could get back to Danil, eventually finding out about charity Save Ukraine, which was helping reunite mothers and children.
Together, she and other parents trekked to Russia and faced a 14-hour long interrogation at the border.
When she came to the camp, administration warned that nothing bad was to be said about the children’s time there. What’s more, Russian TV crews greeted the parents to film their reunions.
The footage was used in a news report, which claimed: ‘Last autumn, children were sent to Crimea with the consent of their parents. They were saved from shelling and given a chance to have a rest in good conditions.’
Other Ukrainian children were fostered into Russian families. Some of the children who spoke to the programme also unveiled the horrific conditions they endured.
The new documentary from award-winning filmmaker Shahida Tulaganova (pictured) recounts the heartbreaking stories of Ukrainian children
Diana, 14, Yana, 12, and Nikita, 10 – siblings from Kherson – were, like Danil, offered to go to a ‘camp’ away from the unrest in Kherson.
They didn’t see their parents until six months later.
‘The Russians say they were protecting us, but what had happened was the consequence of their actions,’ Diana told the programme.
‘They forced the Ukrainian Army out of the city, and then pretended to be our saviours. But in reality, it’s just nonsense.’
The teenager and her siblings say they were required to speak Russian, and that anything connected to Ukraine was prohibited.
Their living conditions were horrific, as some of the rooms – including bathrooms – didn’t even have doors.
Thankfully, they were reunited with their family and now live in a shelter in West Ukraine.
The documentary also deals with the more heartbreaking stories from the conflict.
In one instance, family members of an orphaned teenager have expressed their worry that an 18-year-old boy will be drafted by the Russian army.
When Denis from Kherson was 17, he was taken, alongside four other children of the same age, to Occupied Crimea in October last year.
Soon, he contacted his relatives – who didn’t know where he was up until that point – and asked to go back home.
The report by the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine follows a study published in March, which first presented evidence for human rights violations committed by Russian soldiers during the war (pictured: destroyed Russian vehicles in Ukrainian Bucha)
The investigation also found cases of torture at Russian detention facilities, in the Kherson (the region is pictured here after it was flooded following the destruction of the Kakhova Dam in June) and Zaporizhzhia regions, where Russian soldiers used the same pattern of torture like the UN previously reported
His family wasn’t able to make their way to Russia but his godmother Olga managed to through Save Ukraine.
However, while Denis was privately initially asking to come back to Ukraine, he had started to appear on Russian State Television, voicing his support for Putin while draped in the country’s flag.
Loved ones who have known the young teenager believe it was ‘a propaganda trick’. ‘It wasn’t what he believed in,’ they said. ‘He was forced to do this.’
Olga had braved a long journey – and two days of interrogation by Russian secret service – but was denied access to see Denis because she isn’t a blood relative.
READ MORE: Top Kremlin official who quit over Putin’s invasion and flew abroad as conflict began ‘accuses Russian leader of ‘big mistakes’ and plunging the country into an ‘impossible’ war’
Denis had around this time called his family to say that he didn’t want to return back to Ukraine – something Olga believes he was forced to do.
The programme will also speak with Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights, who is alleged to be involved in the forced abduction and adoption of Ukrainian children in her country.
It will be her first interview by a British broadcaster.
It comes as United Nations have found more evidence of Russia committing ‘indiscriminate attacks’ and war crimes in Ukraine, including torture, rape and the deportation of children.
The report by the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine follows a study published in March, which first presented evidence for human rights violations committed by Russian soldiers during the war.
‘The Commission has found new evidence that Russian authorities have committed violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, and corresponding crimes, in areas that came under their control in Ukraine,’ the UN said in its report.
It listed attacks in the cities of Uman and Kherson, among others, where evidence was found that Russia carried out ‘indiscriminate attacks with explosive weapons, resulting in deaths, injuries and the destruction and damage of civilian objects’.
During one of the listed attacks on a block of flats in Uman, in the Cherkasy region in central Ukraine, 24 people – most of them women and children – were killed in April and part of the building became uninhabitable.
The report also stated: ‘The Commission has recently documented attacks that affected civilian objects, such as residential buildings, a railway station, shops, and a warehouse for civilian use, leading to numerous casualties.’
Russia has repeatedly denied committing atrocities or targeting civilians in Ukraine.
The investigation also found cases of torture at Russian detention facilities, in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, where Russian soldiers used the same pattern of torture like the UN previously reported.
Victims were mainly men suspected of passing information to or helping Ukraine.
Witnesses reported in some cases the torture was so brutal the victim even died.
The commissioners said that interviews with victims and witnesses revealed ‘a profound disregard towards human dignity by Russian authorities’.
The UN had documented cases of rape ‘with the use of force or psychological coercion’ as well as other sexual violence often committed alongside severe beatings, strangling, suffocating, slashing, shooting next to the head of the victim and even killing.
‘Most of the incidents occurred after the perpetrators broke into the victims’ homes,’ it said. ‘Victims reported rapes at gunpoint and threats of killing or of inflicting other serious harm to the victims or their relatives.’
In one of the rape cases listed by the report, a 75-year-old woman was raped and tortured by a Russian soldier in her own home.
The commission added that it had documented the transfer of 31 children from Ukraine to Russia in May last and ‘concluded that it was an unlawful deportation and a war crime’.
Moscow has repeatedly denied forcibly taking Ukrainian children, saying it moved children found in orphanages or without parental care to Russia for their own safety and placed as many of as possible with relatives there.
The Russian diplomatic mission in Geneva did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the commission’s report by news agency Reuters.
The commission also found three cases of Ukrainian authorities have committed violations of human rights of people they have accused of collaborating with Russian authorities.
The report also highlighted concerns about the ‘gravity of the documented violations and crimes as well as their impact on victims, survivors, and the affected communities.
The UN called upon ‘concerned conflict parties’ – Russia and Ukraine – to stop war crimes and violations of human rights immediately.
Ukraine’s Stolen Children is on ITV1 & ITVX at 10.45pm tonight
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