a Ukrainian teenager returning from forced colonies in Crimea recounts her reconstruction



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Diana, her brother and sister, reuniting with their father, after 6 months of separation, in March 2023. (AGATHE MAHUET / RADIOFRANCE)

Since the start of the war, hundreds of Ukrainian children have been kept away from their loved ones in territories occupied by Russia. About fifteen of them were reunited with their families, like Diana.

Around fifteen Ukrainian children are back with their families, welcomes President Volodymyr Zelensky. These minors, like hundreds of others, had been separated from their loved ones, often during summer camps, and forcibly kept for months in territories occupied by Russia. Thanks to the work of associations like Save Ukraine, dozens of children have already been able to return to the country in recent months. But this return to their Ukrainian families is sometimes difficult.

Diana is 15 years old. She was still living with her family in Kherson at the beginning of fall 2022, when the Russian occupation authorities set up these compulsory summer camps for students at her school: “The professor gave us forms to fill out, explaining to us that we were all obliged to go to a colony, to Crimea. We had no possibility of refusing.”

Maintenance work, Russian school program

With her little brother and sister, she finds herself far from her parents. Officially, for two weeks only. “But then the Crimean bridge was attacked, says Diana. And the Russians told us that we had to stay there, for our safety.” Conditions are deteriorating: vacations are no more. Diana and the others have to do maintenance work, study the Russian school curriculum. Six months pass.

Diana spent 6 months against her will in

One evening, she notices a group of teenagers leaving with their suitcases: “One of my friends had found a way to get back to Ukraine!” Diana then provided her parents with the contact for the Save Ukraine association, which in turn managed to extract it, in March 2023: “When I found my mother, she was full of tears, she was kissing us and saying ‘I will never let you go again!'” However, the weeks following their reunion are not easy: “At first I didn’t want to be near my parents. I don’t know…I was a little angry with them.”

Her therapy sessions help her reconnect with her family. But for Olena, the association’s psychologist, the wounds are very real: “These are traumatized children. They have sleeping or eating disorders… And then fears appear! They have been separated from their family for a long time, so we have to mend these relationships little by little…” Diana says she feels more mature today. She had become like a second mother there, to her little brother and sister. Upon their return, the family left Kherson, their home destroyed by bombing. Everyone is gradually rebuilding their lives, together, in kyiv.

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