MPs heard from children who were shipped to Russia or occupied Ukraine and forced to renounce their Ukrainian identity

John Ivison

November 07, 2023

National Post


The exposure of Hamas’s atrocities makes Russia’s conduct in Ukraine seem like the lesser of two evils. But testimony at a parliamentary committee on the unlawful transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia was a reminder that it is still evil. MPs heard from children who were forcibly shipped to Russia or occupied Ukraine and induced to renounce their Ukrainian identity and citizenship in favour of becoming Russians. It is a deliberate policy that many legal scholars consider genocidal, and one for which Vladimir Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, have already been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Parliamentarians on the subcommittee on international human rights heard from representatives of Save the Children and an organization called Save Ukraine, which tries to rescue children forcibly taken from their homes, either placed with Russian foster families or in orphanages. No one knows how many children have been taken, with estimates ranging from 2,000 to 20,000 cases, but it is clear that the four brave kids the MPs heard from are the lucky ones, having been returned to Ukraine, and in some cases reunited with their parents.

Save Ukraine says it has rescued 200 children. Chief executive officer Mykola Kuleba asked for Canada’s help to secure the release of many more. He said the methods by which his organization frees transferred children have to remain confidential.

What MPs heard is that Russia is engaged in the systematic destruction of Ukrainian identity in the children it kidnaps. Kids are no longer allowed to speak Ukrainian; they are forced to learn the Russian anthem and are fed a false narrative about a Nazified Ukraine.

Save Ukraine is trying desperately to secure the release of one boy from Mariupol, who was deported to the Moscow region and will turn 18 in two weeks. He has received a draft notice, and if his release cannot be secured in time, he will likely be sent to the battlefield in Ukraine to fight against his compatriots. In many cases, parents were forced to consent to the removal of their children under duress from the occupying Russian authorities.

Kseniia Koldin, 18, was living with a foster family with her 12-year-old brother when Russian troops arrived in her town. A teacher recommended she go and study in Russia and she says most parents didn’t argue with the occupiers. “I spent nine months in Russia,” she said. “No matter what I did, I didn’t want to abandon Ukraine, no matter how much they told me it was better to assimilate.” She was separated from her brother and she said he was more susceptible to

psychological pressure, to the point where he did not want to return to Ukraine after Kseniia had secured the necessary paperwork. “Ukraine was being bombed. Russia was peaceful. I understand it impacted him,” she said.

Vladyslav Rudenko, 17, said he was taken to a so-called “friendship” camp in occupied Ukraine where the Russian authorities exposed him to propaganda. “I was annoyed with it, so I took the Russian flag off the flagpole. I was put in a punishment cell for a week,” he said. “When you are in Russia, you have no rights. You cannot say you love Ukraine.” Vladyslav was fortunate to have a mother in Tetiana Bodak who was prepared to go to hell and back to rescue her son. She also testified at the committee, recounting how she had no idea where her son was for two months, until she discovered he had been taken to a detention facility in Crimea. She finally tracked him down and was able to travel to Crimea to take him home. “The scariest thing is when I arrived to pick up my son, I was taken to a basement for interrogation and put through a lie detector test. I was detained for 24 hours and had no idea if I would ever see my son again,” Bodak said. “When they told me they would take me to my son, they placed a hood on my head. They were all carrying weapons and I knew they could do anything they wanted.” Once reunited with Vladyslav, the two were not allowed to leave for five days and only secured their release by making a video saying Save Ukraine was stealing children and that Russia is a wonderful country. “I didn’t tell them we were going back to Ukraine. I said we were going to Poland,” Bodak said.

Yevgen Mezhevoy, 40, is a former Ukrainian soldier and a single dad who was working at the steelworks in Mariupol when the Russians invaded. He evacuated the city with his three children but was detained, interrogated and beaten. He was held in a cell with 55 other prisoners with no fresh air or water and two loaves of bread. “It was intolerable,” he said.

He was eventually freed and spent the next month trying to track down his kids, who had been moved to a camp in Moscow for “rest and recreation.” With the help of Save Ukraine, he was able to secure their release and made his way home through Latvia. Asked if he had given his consent for his children to be transferred to Russia, he said “I was not provided a choice when I was in jail. I nearly went crazy thinking about where they might be and how I would get them back,” he said.

It was visceral stuff and more than one MP had to compose themselves before proceeding with questions. All the witnesses — adults and children alike — were clearly traumatized.

Kuleba, Save Ukraine’s CEO, said that just as parliamentarians have hopes and dreams for their children, so do Ukrainians. They hope for a safe, peaceful, prosperous country, governed by the rule of law, where their children can thrive. But first they have a war to win and he appealed for Canada’s help in preserving Ukraine’s identity. “Use your voices to condemn Russia’s forcible transfer as genocide,” he said.

The United Nations independent international commission of inquiry on Ukraine has not made that determination, claiming it “has not found that there has been a genocide within Ukraine.” Yet the UN’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is clear as a bell: Article 2(e) states that genocide means acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group by forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Canada should be unequivocal in its stance and energetic in its efforts to help secure the release of as many kidnapped children as possible. There is a possible role for a third-party country to get involved as an interlocutor. The alternative is waiting for Ukraine and Russia to establish their own dialogue, which will clearly take time — time that Ukraine’s kidnapped children do not have.


John Ivison is a Scottish Canadian journalist and author. He is an Ottawa-based political columnist for the National Post and Ottawa Bureau Chief.  He was educated at the University of Glasgow, McMaster University and the University of Western Ontario, where he earned a Masters of Arts in journalism. He moved to Canada in 1998, as part of the team that launched the National Post. After five years at the Financial Post, Ivison moved to the news section of the National Post, where he has covered provincial politics in Ontario and federal politics in Ottawa since 2003.  In April 2022, he was officially sanctioned by the Russian Federation for articles opposing the invasion of Ukraine.