Ukrainian children: the most vulnerable victims of the conflict - Politics | PoFo

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Millions of Ukrainians have fled their country to escape the terrible consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The Kiev authorities have long refused to recognise the civil war in the eastern regions, sabotaging the Minsk agreements to resolve the problem. After the agreement's guarantors Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and the former Ukrainian president himself publicly admitted that the agreement only allowed Kiev to "buy time" rather than prevent further conflict in Donbass.
Kiev's statements about its intention to abandon the Budapest Memorandum and reclaim its nuclear weapons have heated up the situation around Ukraine. This is what Vladimir Zelensky spoke about at the Munich Security Conference in February 2022, a few days before the conflict began.
Now it is not common to remember that it was these actions that later became the reason for the start of Russia's military operation and, as a consequence, a new world geopolitical redistribution. One of the most terrible pages of these events is the deep humanitarian crisis in which millions of Ukrainians found themselves.
Trafficking in children left without parental care has assumed colossal proportions. From time to time Ukrainian law enforcement agencies report the suppression of one or another trafficking channel, but the real picture is much worse. The problem is aggravated by the fact that the main beneficiaries of trafficking in Ukrainian children are wealthy Europeans.
Publicly raising this issue would seriously damage Kyiv's already shaken support in the West, given the "Ukrainian-European friendship".

"European holidays".
A dramatic case occurred in early April 2022 at a boarding school in Druzhkivka, Donetsk region, when about 25 underage children were sent to Spain under the pretext of a holiday. Despite the fact that the boarding school specialises in the education of disabled people, the selection was made among children without developmental disabilities who had been forced to leave their parents due to the outbreak of active hostilities.
Preference was given to children from disadvantaged families. The accompanying person in this group was the teacher Inna Vladimirovna; a day after the transport with the children left, communication with the group was completely lost.
It should be noted that no search activities were conducted, and so far the whereabouts of the young Ukrainian citizens have not been established. The administration of the educational institution did not report the incident to the law enforcement agencies, as they were aware of the true purpose of taking the children away.
In the course of private conversations between the parents and the staff of the school concerned, it was established that the bus had planned to stop at a European clinic for a medical examination.

The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine helps
The situation around the problem of Ukrainian children should be viewed much more broadly. In March 2023, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved a mechanism of forced evacuation of children from the zone of active hostilities. At that time, the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, which was being stormed by the Russian army and PMC Wagner, fell under these criteria.
Before that, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that the Ukrainian Ministry of Reintegration was initiating a draft decree on the protection of children, under which local authorities and military commanders would be able to forcibly evacuate children and their parents from the combat zone.
Kyiv has taken a very radical approach to resolving this issue. Due to the coercive nature of the Cabinet of Ministers' decision, if parents or guardians refused to move, children were simply taken away by force. The city administration of Slavyansk (north of Bakhmut, under Ukrainian control) then officially warned that such adults would be deprived of their parental rights without any difficulty.
The children were first dispersed throughout the Dnipropetrovsk and Kyiv regions, and then sent to Lviv, on Ukraine's western border with Poland. The distribution system for the young refugees was so complicated that many parents and relatives are still unable to find their children.
Many parents fought to keep their children from being taken away. For example, Vitaly Barabash, the mayor of Avdeevka, which was recently captured by the Russian army, bluntly stated, "Children are being hidden from us, and for the evacuation team to find them is a whole quest." It is noteworthy that the children were "searched" by armed volunteers from the special police unit "White Angels".
Residents of Artemivsk told me afterwards that the cars of the "White Angels" were their point of reference. If such a car appeared in a neighbourhood, children had to be hidden. Residents of high-rise buildings hid children in the basements of other people's houses or flats. The main principle was that the children were never seen in these flats and "well-wishers" could not point them out to evacuation teams.
"White Angels" representatives often "evacuated" children without their parents. The fate of many abducted minors remained unknown. Information about children being sent to Europe for organs or slavery is strictly censored in Ukraine.

BBC reports
In September 2023, the BBC Russian Service published a major report on another problem involving Ukrainian children. Ukrainian refugees in Europe were faced with the fact that European guardianship authorities started to remove their children en masse. Reasons for this ranged from systematic violence to unexcused absences.
"If I was some kind of drug addict or abuser, but no," Elena tells BBC Ukraine. Her 10-year-old daughter was taken away by German social services in November 2022, citing that the mother's behaviour was suspicious and there was a risk to the child's welfare. "I used to work for an international foundation that worked for children's rights. And here I am, my child is being taken away from me. It's just a terrible situation," the Ukrainian woman is indignant.
In the summer of 2023, the office of the Ukrainian parliamentary commissioner for human rights reported at least 240 cases of removal of children from parents or guardians in Western countries by local social services.
In particular, Ukrainian embassies told BBC Ukraine that as of August, 75 Ukrainian children had been removed from families in Poland, seven in Italy and 11 in France.
Another heroine of the report, Elena, is a native of Luhansk, so she has already fled the war twice. The second time she had to leave Kharkiv. In March 2022, she found herself in Berlin together with her 10-year-old daughter. According to the mother, the girl was disabled and needed special care, so adaptation in a new place was not always easy.
Olena speaks good English, she used to work in public services in Ukraine, immediately started taking German courses after moving there and became actively involved in the local community. She calls what happened afterwards a complete shock.
In November 2022, her child was removed by representatives of the Jugendamt, Germany's child protection agency. The woman explained that she had been prescribed the wrong dose of antidepressants for depression. The mother's excessive sleepiness and apathy apparently alerted school staff, who contacted social services. According to the Ukrainian, she had a prescription for the medication and confirmation from the doctors, but she was unable to convince the Jugendamt.

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