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Stories of Ukrainian children who survived deportation to Russia

Stories of Ukrainian children who survived deportation to Russia Illustrative photo (Getty Images)
Author: Maria Kholina

As of August 2023, Russia has allegedly kidnapped around 20,000 Ukrainian children. However, no one can provide an exact and unequivocal number. These children are being adopted by Russian families and efforts are made to assimilate them, erasing their Ukrainian roots. 17-year-old Rostyslav Lavrov, Bohdan Yermokhin of the same age, and 16-year-old Diana (last name withheld) have experienced deportation and interactions with Russians.

Below are the teenagers' stories, according to The Washington Post.

Rostyslav comes from a village in the Kherson region, which was occupied last year. Rostyslav was taken to Crimea and even enrolled in a school there. His disappearance did not go unnoticed.

The young man knows that he was being sought after his escape. He showed online announcements with his photo and the caption "Wanted." The school director in Crimea and even the local police contacted him.

"Where are you?" they wanted to know. "I’m in Ukraine," Rostyslav recounts.

Сидів у камері через відмову співати гімн ворога. Історії дітей, які пережили депортацію до Росії

Rostyslav's wanted notice (photo:

He was not registered upon crossing the border. People he knew in Crimea might face consequences due to the boy's escape, and the teacher who accidentally marked him present in class that day might even end up in prison.

This is all according to Rostyslav's account.

Russia recently allowed a few children to return to Ukraine through the mediation of Qatar. Among them was 17-year-old Bohdan Yermokhin from Mariupol. He was resettled in Russia and then issued a Russian passport. While living in Russia, he received notices to register with the Russian military authorities.

Сидів у камері через відмову співати гімн ворога. Історії дітей, які пережили депортацію до Росії

Rostyslav Lavrov (photo:

After diplomatic negotiations, Yermokhin returned to Ukraine through Belarus on his 18th birthday, avoiding conscription to fight against his own country. Lavrov feared a similar fate when he found himself in Crimea before turning 18.

16-year-old Diana ended up in occupied Kherson. At that time, she was in the eighth grade and lived with her grandparents. In October, the school principal suggested that she and her friends visit a camp in Russia for 10 days. After her refusal, the principal insisted on it.

On October 14, 2022, three girls boarded a train with hundreds of other children, aged approximately 6 to 18. They realized something was wrong and that it was not just a camp.

Rostyslav Lavrov was also in a Russian camp. He spent nine days in a solitary confinement cell for not singing the Russian anthem.

Once, Diana openly asked the Russians in the camp what would happen if Ukraine liberated the city of Kherson.

"My brother is sitting in the trenches. It’s 100 percent sure that [Ukrainian forces] will not enter the city," she recalled one Russian camp official telling her.

Сидів у камері через відмову співати гімн ворога. Історії дітей, які пережили депортацію до Росії

16-year-old Diana, who also ended up in a Russian camp for children (photo:

All the children managed to return to Ukraine. Some were taken back by their families with the help of various organizations, while others had to save themselves. Rostislav Lavrov was among those who had to fend for himself.

When the dormitory in Kerch closed for the summer, the school administration sent him to a camp for troubled children in another part of Crimea. He once again began making plans to escape.

When he returned to school in the fall, officials again tried to hand him Russian documents. Soon, the boy fled. Volunteers were waiting for him at the Ukrainian border.

Rostyslav was taken to temporary housing. There, he met another boy who had also been in captivity. So now they are roommates again, but this time in Ukraine.