Russia Grooms Abducted Ukrainian Kids for War

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More than two years after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, at least 187 Ukrainian children who were forcibly brought to Russia and made to become new “Russian citizens” are languishing in the country’s orphanage system, where they’ve been forced to undergo “patriotic” training and “tests for aggression,” according to a new report.

A joint investigation by the independent Russian-language news outlets Verstka and iStories found a total of 285 children taken from Ukraine’s Donbas region listed in a Russian database. Some of them, however, have since aged out of the system, been (illegally) adopted into Russian families, or in rare cases, returned to their biological families.

Several kids from a boarding school in Ukraine’s Donetsk region described being rounded up almost a week before Moscow’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.

“Everything happened fast, and no one understood what was happening. They told us to pack everything we’d need because we were leaving for three days. The teachers helped us pack small bags, and the next day everyone was already sitting in buses,” 17-year-old Marina Kramorova recalled to Verstka and iStories.

The kids were then brought onto Russian territory, with some sent to the Rostov region and others sent to Kursk.

“When we found out this would last for a long time, we were very upset. We wanted to go back,” 17-year-old Veronika was quoted as saying.

While both accused war criminals Vladimir Putin and his children’s envoy, Maria Lvova-Belova, have sought to portray the mass abduction of Ukrainian kids as a heroic act—boasting about “generous” Russian families giving them “love” and new homes—the Kremlin has been mum about the Ukrainian children dumped into the country’s orphanage system.

Putin: I’ll Find New ‘Loving Families’ for Kids Orphaned by My War

Some of them are apparently being primed to serve the Russian military in the future.

“Every Monday we have a line-up, we sing the Russian anthem,” Ksenia, a 16-year-old from the Donetsk region, told Verstka and iStories of her new cadet school in Russia’s Saratov region.

Kids from Donetsk attending the school had to swear an oath to the Russian military, and have routinely had visits from Russian troops fighting in Ukraine, she said, adding that the school is “preparing [students] for military action.”

Ksenia said she is hoping to become a lawyer, but that she might end up going to a military academy because she’d been promised “benefits” as a native of Donetsk.

Other kids have described being bullied for being Ukrainian, prompting interventions by Russian psychologists and “tests for aggression.”

Prospective adoptive parents have also complained that the kids snatched up from Ukraine might still be in touch with relatives back home, making them essentially undesirable, according to the report. “At any moment relatives might be found in Ukraine and you will have to give [the kids] back,” one prospective adoptive parent was quoted saying.

Some of the kids have been advised to talk themselves up in short videos shown to potential foster families—but their lines are flat-out disturbing.

“I love puzzles and mosaics. I can dust, clean floors, wash dishes, sweep,” says 14-year-old Masha, who’s been separated from her younger sisters.

“I would like to travel-to Italy,” says 15-year-old Arina, before similarly billing herself as a potential servant around the house: “I know how to clean, wash floors, wipe dust. I’m best at cooking rice and buckwheat.”

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