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Canada’s moral duty: freeing Ukrainian children kidnapped by Russia

Nov 23, 2023 | Featured, Politics

Ukrainian children provide testimonies at the Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights

Daryna Ostrovska for NP-UN.

As the world grapples with global conflicts and humanitarian crises, there is one dark chapter that continues to haunt our collective conscience: the abduction and forced deportation of Ukrainian children by Russian authorities: a clear violation of basic human rights and international conventions on war crimes and crimes against humanity. Undoubtedly, this can be described as nothing short of genocide. Moreover, back in March, the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, in March was a significant step towards justice.

Recent testimonies at the Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights have brought to light the dire need for meaningful and decisive action on this critical issue. Evil, in any form, must not be tolerated, and the urgency to address the abduction of Ukrainian children is clear: their stories show us why Canada must help them get back home and back to their families.

Canadian MPs heard firsthand accounts from four brave children who were forcibly taken from Ukraine and transported to Russia and two courageous parents who fought to bring their kids back. These heart-wrenching stories shed light on the horrors that these innocent young lives have endured. Those are probably the most devastating and heroic testimonies of our modern times. It is crucial that Canada takes a stand and takes the lead in helping these children find their way back home.

Kseniia Koldin and her 11-year-old brother, Serhiy, were living in foster care in Ukraine due to family difficulties. Their lives took a nightmarish turn when Russian forces occupied their town. Serhiy was sent to a summer camp in Russia but never returned, falling victim to a Russian family’s clutches. Kseniia embarked on a heroic mission to reunite with her brother, navigating the treacherous waters of Russian occupation. She courageously recounted her ordeal, highlighting the dire need to draw attention to these heinous crimes against Ukrainian children. Kseniia expressed her profound gratitude to the Subcommittee for sharing her story and called for assistance in the pursuit of justice and the safe return of these innocent lives.

Vladyslav Rudenko, a 17-year-old, was forcibly taken from his Ukrainian home by Russian soldiers while his mother was away. What was supposed to be a brief absence turned into eight months of captivity in Russian-controlled facilities. He was subjected to intense Nazi-style indoctrination, forced silence about Ukraine, and physical, psychological and inhuman abuse. It took his mother’s unwavering determination to bring him back, but the scars remain.

Tetiana Bodak, Vladyslav’s mother, embarked on a relentless journey through Russia and Russian-occupied territories to be reunited with her son. She faced interrogation, a lie detector test, and 24 hours of detention in a basement.

Anastasiia Motychak, a 15-year-old, was sent to a “health camp” in Crimea during a school-organized trip, where she was exposed to Russian propaganda and mistreatment.

Denys Berezhnyi was also taken from his school in occupied Kherson and relocated to a camp in Crimea with falsified documents. In Kherson, he had been a lifeline for his family, providing food and supplies, as his parents faced additional challenges due to their disabilities.

Yevhen Mezhevoi, a single father and former Ukrainian army member, was forced to relocate with his three children during the 2022 siege of Mariupol. After enduring 45 days of detention by Russian-supported separatists, he embarked on an arduous journey to find his children. Their eventual reunion was a testament to the unwavering love of a father for his children. Yevhen told the Subcommittee that the determination to reunite with their abducted children is unwavering. During this harrowing ordeal, Yevhen reflected on his anguish, saying, “I was not provided a choice, for example. I was torn away from my children and while I was in jail, I nearly went crazy thinking about where my children are, and what happened to them. I couldn’t stop thinking about that. I knew nothing about my children, and my only thought was, ‘How do I get my children back?’”

These testimonies emphasize the unwavering resolve of Ukrainian parents to reunite with their abducted children. It’s a relentless battle, demanding sleepless nights and unwavering focus.

All the witnesses stated that the children were protecting their Ukrainian identity while being kidnapped – leading to harsh conditions and isolation as punishment. These stories are just a glimpse of the larger picture of those affected by Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children, illustrating the atrocities committed against them. The number of affected children is estimated to be around 19,000 cases. Only 300 children have been returned to Ukraine, so the situation requires urgent international attention.

Forcible transfer, abduction, and indoctrination are crimes that should not go unpunished. Canada has a crucial role to play in supporting the victims and their families. As the Subcommittee on International Human Rights examines these cases, Canada must take a firm stance and actively work towards securing the release of all abducted children.

Canada has a moral obligation to act swiftly and decisively to help bring these kidnapped Ukrainian children back home. The testimonies presented leave no room for hesitation, and it is not just a matter of international diplomacy but a moral imperative that Canada must fulfill for the basic rights of the innocent victims of this unjustified war: the children.

In the face of evil, let us be a beacon of hope and justice.

The time for action is now, and Canada must rise to the occasion and lead an international coalition.

Daryna Ostrovska serves as a director of Parliamentary Affairs and Communications at the office of MP Garnett Genuis

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