Hope Is Present—But Your Prayers Are Needed

During these tumultuous times—as knowledgeable Ukrainians seek to rescue Ukrainian children who were forcibly taken to Russian-occupied territory—your prayers are vital. Here is the story of one child’s successful return.

Last October, the teachers at a school in Kherson, Ukraine convinced Tetiana Vlaiko, mother of one of the students, to send her 11-year-old daughter to what they called a “summer camp.”

It turned out to be a Russian re-education facility.

“All the mothers at the school signed up. Probably, I could have said no, but the teachers kept saying that all kids are going, it is free, and she will come back in two weeks,” said 36-year-old Vlaiko.

At the time, Kherson was under Russian control, and Ukrainians were fighting to get the city back. Life there was dangerous. There were rumors of Russian brutality and rape of people on the streets and a constant risk of shelling. So, Vlaiko initially thought it would be good for her daughter to get away for a short period and agreed to send her to the camp.

The “camp” was in Russian-occupied Crimea. Lilia was supposed to be home on October 21. But she didn’t show up — and neither did any of her classmates. “I called the teachers when I realized she wasn’t returning … but they didn’t answer,” said Vlaiko. She and other parents found the school’s director, who told them the kids weren’t returning.

She reached out to AFFEO partner Save Ukraine, a charitable group helping Ukrainians with evacuations, humanitarian aid, and housing for refugees.

The organization found out where Lilia was and secured travel documents for Vlaiko. Beginning in January, Save Ukraine took Vlaiko and the parents of 15 other missing children from Ukraine to Russia. For more than 10 days they traveled a circuitous path of 2,360 miles via Poland and Belarus. Finally, in early February, they reached the Russian facility where Vlaiko was reunited with her daughter.

It had been almost four months since they had seen each other.

As they tried to return to Ukraine, Russian border guards blocked them at three crossings into Belarus, saying they couldn’t leave the country. After these three failed attempts, Save Ukraine decided to try the border into Latvia, where they were finally allowed to cross. It took them several more days to make it back to Ukraine. They traveled 2,800 miles to get home.

According to her mother. Lilia and the other students at the Crimean camp were only allowed to speak Russian and were taught Russian history. They were afraid to even try to speak Ukrainian for fear they would be punished. Save Ukraine‘s CEO, Mykola [Nikolai] Kuleba said that the purpose of these camps is to destroy the children’s Ukrainian identity. “Some kids told us that they are forced to sing Russian songs and forget everything about Ukraine when they are in these camps,” said Kuleba.

Currently, the Vlaiko family is living in a hotel in Kyiv, figuring out what to do. “We don’t have our place to live anymore, and I don’t have a job. We have to start again from scratch — but at least [we’re] together,” said Vlaiko.

Kuleba said that when children are taken, time is of the essence in rescuing them. “We must do it immediately because, otherwise, they might give the kids the status of a Russian orphan and send them to a Russian orphanage. A Russian family can quickly adopt them, and then it is too late,” said Kuleba.

Once children are adopted, their names can be changed, which makes them impossible to find. Furthermore, if the kids receive Russian passports, they can’t leave the country. “We don’t know … how many have been adopted already,” Kuleba said.

Kuleba thinks that getting Ukrainian children out of Russia might soon be impossible. Save Ukraine’s experience getting Lilia home — being denied permission to leave Russia through Belarus at three checkpoints — is a cautionary tale.

“The roads out of Russia could be closed at any time,” said Kuleba.

Won’t you please continue to pray

that the roads out of Russia would remain open as our faithful partners work tirelessly to bring children held in Russia back home to their parents and caregivers in Ukraine.

• for children and families who are currently separatedfor protection and a swift, safe, and permanent reunion.

• for children and families who’ve been reunitedfor continued healing, support, and provision for their futures.

Thank you, and may God bless you for remembering these vulnerable ones!

This update was taken from a 3/11/23 report by WhoWhatWhy, a global nonprofit news organization committed to reporting without corporate pressure, political agenda or a pack mentality.

The image is by Heike Frohnhoff from Pixabay.

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