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On June 4, the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression, First Lady Olena Zelenska visited Kharkiv to commemorate Ukrainian children killed by the Russian war.
As of today, at least 485 children have been killed, and 1,005 have been injured, since the beginning of the all-out war in February 2022, according to the General Prosecutor’s Office.
“This pain can not be comprehended. In the 21st century, in the middle of Europe, we are forced to talk about protecting our children from physical destruction,” Zelenska, who has two children with Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote in a statement.
“But the world must realize, if it hasn't realized yet: a threat to our children is a threat to all children. Childhood has no borders,” she wrote.
In Kharkiv, Zelenska delivered a speech during the opening of the monument commemorating the killed children.
“It is difficult to open monuments to those killed. Especially if these killed are children,” Zelenska said, trying to hold back tears.
“I remember a photo of a father holding the hand of his son who was killed at a bus stop here in Kharkiv,” she went on. “Parents hold their children's hand when they learn to walk. Parents hold their children's hand when they take them to kindergarten or school for the first time. And the most terrible thing is when parents hold the hands of the children who have been killed.”
“To the little angels who encountered human cruelty so early and who, unfortunately, will never become adults,” reads the inscription on the monument.
A commemoration ceremony was also held In Kyiv, during which authorities and citizens hung little bells on trees, “symbolizing the voices of the killed children,” according to Kyiv City Military Administration.
Children are among the most vulnerable groups in Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Among the latest casualties is a two-year-old girl who was killed when an apartment building was hit by a Russian missile strike in the town of Pidhorodne in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast on June 3.
Apart from physical threats due to Russian attacks, over 19,500 children have been abducted by the Russian authorities.
The kidnapped children are submitted to re-education to instill “pro-Russia patriotic values" and "assigned" to Russian adoptive and foster families.
The Ukrainian government and non-governmental institutions are working on their safe return. According to the "Children of War" database, so far only 371 of them have been safely returned to their families.