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Reuters: Posterchild of Russia's Ukrainian children deportation program says he was threatened

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk March 20, 2024 11:00 AM 1 min read
Ukrainian woman protest Russia's illegal deportation of Ukrainian children on International Children's Day in Cape Town, South Africa, on June 1, 2023. Photo for illustrative purposes. (Misha Jordaan/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
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Denys Kostev, a posterchild used by Russian authorities to promote and justify their campaign of deporting Ukrainian children, said he was coached and threatened if he did not comply, according to an investigation by Reuters released on March 19.

Since February 2022, nearly 20,000 Ukrainian children have been identified as abducted from Russian-occupied territories and sent to other Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, Belarus, or to Russia itself, according to a Ukrainian national database.

Ukraine has only been able to return about 400 of these children from Russia.

Kostev, a teenage orphan, was taken from Kherson to occupied Crimea by Russian authorities in fall 2022. He then regularly appeared in pro-Russian videos that appeared online while in Russian captivity.

Kostev told Reuters that he was coached by Russian officials to repeat talking points in support of Russia's deportation of Ukrainian children and threatened with beatings if he complained about his conditions.

Kostev said he participated in the videos because he felt intimidated.

"When your life is threatened, you will do anything to keep yourself safe," he told Reuters.

Agents from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) also questioned Kosten on the whereabouts of Ukrainian troops and ammunition dumps, which he said he did not share.

Despite receiving promises from Russian officials that he would be accepted into a prestigious university or obtain other perks, Kosten said the pledges did not come true.

Kosten moved to Russia from occupied territory but soon sought to be able to reunite with family in Germany and left Russia in February. He told Reuters that Russian authorities did not try to prevent him from leaving.

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