People story


Story 24: Yevheniia

10-year-old Yevheniia lived with her mother, Iryna, in Kupiansk, Kharkiv region. The city had been occupied since the first days of Russia’s full-scale war in February 2022, but the family chose not to leave their home. In late August, as the school year began and Yevheniia was set to start 6th grade, local collaborators suggested to Iryna that she send her daughter with other children to a camp. It was presented as a three-week-long vacation for “children to rest,” said the collaborators. Initially, Iryna was reluctant to send her child, but the collaborators eventually obtained her agreement through manipulation and brainwashing.


Yevheniia, along with other children from Kupiansk and the local collaborators, was first sent to a camp in Gelendzhyk, then to Anapa, Russia. During their stay, the Armed Forces of Ukraine started their counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region. The collaborators accompanying the children withheld this information and eventually refused to return the children. Iryna lost all contact with the people who took her daughter to the camp and realized it was a kidnapping. Russians stole children just right before the AFU counteroffensive.


After the Kharkiv region was fully de-occupied, seven families whose children were taken to the Russian camp contacted the volunteer initiative Save Ukraine. Save Ukraine funded the parents’ trip to Russia and assisted in bringing the children back to Ukraine. After a week and thousands of kilometers on the road, Iryna reunited with her daughter.


Yevheniia recalls that in the camp, the Ukrainian children were brainwashed constantly. Russians claimed that Kharkiv was forever a part of Russia and intentionally lied about Kharkiv’s de-occupation. Now, back in Ukraine, Yevheniia is happy to be with her mother again. However, she reports that in the camp, there were 60 more Ukrainian children left. Across Russia, there are hundreds of camps and similar facilities with forcibly deported Ukrainians.


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