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Ukraine rescues illegally deported teenager from Russia

by The Kyiv Independent news desk January 2, 2024 4:32 PM 2 min read
Ukrainian teenager Oleksandr Naumkin, now 19, who was illegally deported from occupied Mariupol to Russia in 2022, featured in a Russian propaganda video. Naumkin was brought back to Ukraine on Jan. 2, 2024. (Russian propaganda video on YouTube)
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Ukraine has brought back an unlawfully displaced Ukrainian Oleksandr Naumkin, now 19, from Russia on Jan. 2.

Naumkin, a resident of Mariupol, was among the 31 children deported to Russia in May 2022 under the disguise of sending them for rehabilitation to the Polyany boarding house in Moscow Oblast. They are known as “Group 31.”

The Kyiv Independent has learned about the teenager’s rescue from Daria Kasianova, the head of the board at the Ukrainian Child Rights Network. The organization worked on bringing back Naumkin along with Ukraine’s Ministry of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories and the teenager’s lawyer, Kateryna Bobrovska.

The Ukrainian authorities have identified over 19,000 Ukrainian children who have been illegally deported to Russia since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022. Only 387 children have been brought back so far, according to the national database Children of War.

After the so-called “rehabilitation” in Russia, part of the children from "Group 31" were put into the custody of Russian families in Moscow Oblast. The rest, including Naumkin, were placed into Russian state care institutions. Naumkin also studied in a Russian vocational school.

The Kyiv Independent reconstructed the deportation of the “Group 31” in an investigative documentary, “Uprooted.” The film revealed that Russia’s collaborators organized the Ukrainian children’s displacement from occupied Donetsk to Russia in May 2022.

Some of the group’s children were from the now-occupied Mariupol and its suburbs. During the Russian offensive operations aimed at capturing the city, the Russian military forcibly moved the children to Donetsk, placing them in local hospitals. They were later brought together with other Ukrainian children in the part of Donetsk Oblast occupied by Russia since 2014. Together, they were illegally deported to Russia.

Svitlana Maiboroda, a local resident who collaborated with Russia, was in charge of the children’s displacement, the Kyiv Independent’s investigation discovered. Maiboroda was the head of the local proxy agency in charge of children and family affairs installed by the Russian occupiers in Donetsk Oblast. Ukraine put Maiboroda on the sanctions list on Nov. 18, 2023.

Naumkin is the sixth child of the “Group 31” who was brought back to Ukraine.

Earlier on Nov. 19, Naumkin’s friend Bohdan Yermokhin, another member of the group, returned to Ukraine.

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