Daria Herasymchuk, Zelensky’s chosen one to recover the minors stolen by Russia: “We know that there are at least 16,000 kidnapped children”

Daría Herashymuk searches for Ukrainian children stolen by Russia (Photo: Franco Fafasuli) (Franco Fafasuli /)

(Ukraine. Special envoys)- Daria Herasymchuk sighs. He jerks his hands forward, as if wiping the water off his fingers before grabbing something, and then goes to respond. “It’s a very difficult question for me,” she says. And he continues: “Why did President Zelensky choose me for this task? Well, I have been working for children for a long time. My own son has a disability and I feel I have a mission to contribute. And now, with the war, I am working so that all the children of the country can be in Ukraine, where they belong”.

Chosen by President Zelensky himself, Daria Herasymchuk is in charge of the Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation. When he entered the position, his work was very different from today: he had to take care of protecting and helping the most vulnerable child population in the country. With the beginning of the war everything changed: today he is tasked with recovering children who were illegally transferred to Russia.

The numbers are not clear but even the most prudent versions are scary. Official Ukrainian sources speak of the fact that there are 16 thousand children confirmed that they were stolen by Russia and are now in that country. Of them, until the closing of this note they had only managed to recover 307, but there are permanent (and secret) negotiations led by Daria.

His office is inside a large Soviet building located in a huge complex in kyiv. From there he has video calls, interviews, work meetings with the presidency team. She doesn’t leave there for long hours of the day, absorbed with the size of her task. Right there, prior to this exclusive interview with infobaereceived the Argentine pilot and philanthropist Enrique Piñeyro, who arrived in the capital of Ukraine to work on projects to help the country through his NGO, Solidaire, with which he has already carried out more than 15 humanitarian flights carrying donations or transporting refugees. Now, she offered Herasymchuk her plane to facilitate the return of the children: look for them wherever necessary and take them back to Ukraine.

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Herashymuk, with the Argentine pilot and philanthropist Enrique Piñeyro and Óscar Camps, director of Open Arms (Photo: Franco Fafasuli) (Franco Fafasuli /)

However, the counselor’s main challenge before moving the children is to get them back. It is that thousands of them were taken by Russia and the Putin government shows no desire to return them.

“Today the official number of children who died in the war is 461″, says Herasymchuk. And he adds: “But it is not the final figure, which we know will be higher, because we are still looking for many. There are children that we have not yet identified… On the other hand, the number of children injured today is 927. But at the same time every child in the country is psychologically injured in some way. We are talking about 7 million children. Everything that is happening to the children in this war is an act of genocide against our people.”, defines.

In recent weeks, a foreign report has accompanied some of the complaints made by the Ukrainian government on this issue. The Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL) (an American think tank), published a paper in February in which it claims that at least 6,000 Ukrainian children were taken to Russian training centers. In turn, it identified 43 complexes where the concentration of children occurs. Although the Russian authorities did not make an official statement, the report ensures that at least 32 of these centers are for the purpose of political re-education of children. According to the report’s conclusions, all levels of government headed by the Kremlin would be implicated, from the municipal to the federal sphere.

-Can you speak with certainty of the number of children taken by Russia or are they speculative figures?

-Confirmed, there are 16,221 Ukrainian children who were deported to Russia and are kidnapped there. Our job is to get them back, and we are trying tirelessly. But apart from these data, we know that the total number of children who were taken to Russia after the occupation of the different territories is much higher, but since we still don’t have confirmation or we haven’t received the complaint or we can’t enter the occupied territories verifying it, we are not sure what the actual final number is. Today we estimate that between 100,000 and 200,000 children were crossed to the Russian border from Ukraine, and it could be appropriate.

What do the Russian authorities say?

-Russian propaganda says that they are saving children, and they themselves, in their own media, speak of 738 thousand children. We know that physically, because of the territory they occupied, they cannot reach that number of children. But we don’t understand where they get these numbers from. We try to list these children as quickly as possible, because we understand that they are giving false information.

-Are all these children alone in Russia? Separated from parents?

-There are very different cases, but mostly yes. In some cases, children are separated from their parents. because when they cross them at the border, families go through a filter and the parents can end up on one side, and the children on the other.

-There are many theories about what happens with these children. There is talk of “re-education camps” inside Russia. Do they know exactly where they are taking them?

-That is a fundamental question. When the Russians entered Ukraine they already knew what they were going to do with the children, it’s not like they improvised. This is something we already know because when was the annexation of Crimea they invented a “train of hope” that came from Russia to Ukraine, to Crimea, to adopt Ukrainian children. It was something illegal, but they called it that “Train of Hope.”

How do appropriations happen?

-They have their own methods to appropriate children. So far since the war began we have already managed to recover and return 307 children, and we began to investigate from that how the Russian methods of taking the children work. We discovered that there are five ways they do it, or five scenarios. The first scenario occurs when they have already killed the parents and, already orphans, they take them away. The second scenario is cWhen families pass through filtration centers at the border, there they separate the parents from the children and take them away. The third scenario is when they occupy a city, they say they are the authority and invent laws based on which they take the children from their parents saying that the boys cannot live in those conditions, and they take them away. The fourth case is when they invent rehabilitation camps, they take the boys from the houses and take them to these so-called camps, but for that they force the parents to sign a permission slip. This just happened in Kharkiv, in Kherson, in various areas. It is one of the most used methods. And what they do once they take them is start moving them from one rehabilitation camp to another, all in Russia. In this way, they never come back… And The last way they have to appropriate children is when they directly take them from orphanages.

– I understand that they are having permanent negotiations to recover the boys. Who do they talk to in Russia? Who are the interlocutors?

-It never happened once that Russia returned a child voluntarily, saying that they had made a mistake or whatever. Never. They never returned any child voluntarily. The only person who can communicate between here and there, did not reach an effective negotiation. All cases of recovery success were particular to each case.

-In cases where they were successful, how did it work? How did they do it?

-I can’t tell. If we talk about only one of the recovery mechanisms, it would immediately stop working. But we are going to fight for each Ukrainian child to return home, because for us and for any country in the world, children are their future, their greatest treasure.

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According to the UN, the majority of those displaced by the invasion are women, children and the elderly.

– Do you have a record that there are children already attributed to a family within Russia?

-We have a total registry in which we keep the complaints of all the parents or other relatives who request for each child. All this documentation is concentrated and we work with it, but I can’t reveal anything because it would give away and complicate our recovery attempts.

-Why did President Zelensky choose you for this task? Or why he thinks he chose her, at least.

It’s a really difficult question. A year and a half ago, the president offered me to work in this position, in the Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation Commission, I had no doubts because all my life I worked for and for children. My own son has a disability and I am working so that all the children of the country can be in Ukraine. I am coordinating the work of various ministries in relation to this issue, and that articulation is also very important. What changed this year is that we had a lot more work because here we also deal with the rehabilitation of children who suffer from a problem, and the number of children who need rehabilitation with all the attacks has increased enormously. We have to recover the children who are in Russia, but we also have to help those who are here so that they can recover from what they experienced.

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