Story 26: Lilya
Eleven-year-old Liliia lived with her mother, Tetiana, in Kherson. In September 2022, while Kherson was still occupied by Russian forces, they began preparing for withdrawal as the Armed Forces of Ukraine approached. During this time, the occupiers organized “summer camps” for students in Kherson. Despite the odd timing at the beginning of the school year, pro-Russian teachers encouraged parents to send their children to camps in Crimea and Russia.
In September, Liliia’s class teacher, a collaborator, announced that the entire class would attend a two-week summer camp in Crimea. Parents were instructed to bring their children’s birth certificates and other documents to the river port at 6 am the following day for a steamboat trip across the Black Sea. Tetiana was skeptical of the trip, but the teacher insisted, and Liliia was eager to see the sea for the first time.
Liliia reported that the camp involved attending concerts, sightseeing, swimming in the sea, and more. However, everything was conducted in Russian, and they had to sing the Russian anthem every morning as part of a “patriotic” re-education.
After the two-week period, there was no mention of returning home. A few days later, Tetiana was informed that the children had been moved from the camp to another facility. Subsequently, she lost contact with Liliia and received no further updates.
It took several months before Tetiana found traces of her daughter in Crimea. With the help of a volunteer organization, she and other mothers traveled to Crimea via bus (crossing the Poland-Russian border). Tetiana went to the facility where Liliia was being held and brought her daughter back. They are now safely in the liberated Kherson.
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