During the occupation of Novopetrivske village in Mykolaiv Oblast by the Russian military, 15 orphans remained in the local boarding school. Against the will of the children and their caregivers, the occupiers illegally took them to Russia. The journalists of Slidstvo.Info identified the abductors of the orphans.
This is discussed in a special report Who and how abducted 15 Ukrainian orphans? by Slidstvo.Info. The video has English subtitles.
On March 24, 2022, Russians occupied the village of Novopetrivske in the Mykolaiv region. It is here that a boarding school is located, where 15 orphans were staying. For more than three months, the children, along with their teachers and the school principal, had to live in the basement without water, electricity or mobile phone service.
In mid-July 2022, armed men in uniform came to the school and forced the children to go with them to Kherson.
In its propaganda media, Russia presented the removal of the children as an evacuation, but they were moved from Novopetrivske as far away from safe Ukrainian territory as possible. The director of the boarding school and the children’s caretaker, Natalia Lutsyk, went with the children.
The orphans were placed in the Centre for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation of Children in the village of Stepanivka, a suburb of Kherson. The facility was empty because the local caregivers had managed to hide their children with friends and colleagues.
The director of the Centre, Volodymyr Sahaidak, recalls that the orphans from Novopetrivske were brought to the house on Russian military vehicles: “They brought these children in military vehicles… When the children started to get out of the vehicles, they were very scared. I found out later that they thought they were being taken to Russia.”
A few days later, armed men came to the centre. They thoroughly searched all the premises and took the documents. These people were recorded on surveillance cameras.
“They smashed computers and took system drives. They stole everything they could steal. They smashed the video cameras, took a terabyte drive where the information was recorded, so I don’t have any further videos,” Sahaidak recalls.
The soldiers behaved defiantly because they were sure that they would not be recognised because of the balaclavas that hid their faces.
“Not a single Russian who came to us told us his name or his position. They were all ‘Mr X’. They did not say how to address them,” says Sahaidak.
However, one of the men was not wearing a mask. The cameras show that he has a distinctive beard with a white strand.
Slidstvo.Info found that this man is Georgiy Tambovtsev, the so-called Deputy Minister of the occupation Ministry of Youth Policy and Sports in Kherson Oblast.
Tambovtsev is an experienced collaborator. Before the war, he was one of the leaders of the pro-Russian movement in Kherson called the Concept of Public Security. The movement promoted the idea of kinship with Russia, criticised cooperation with the West and expressed nostalgia for the USSR.
“I wonder what led to the hostilities in Donbas, that one part of society went to war against another, let’s say, the western part against the eastern part?” Tambovtsev asked in 2014 on his propaganda channel during a conversation with his colleague Serhiy Kirichenko.
Together with former Ukrainian MP Serhiy Kyrychenko, they organised pro-Russian rallies. It was in the spring and autumn of 2014. Then the locals broke up the rallies and shouted “Down with the separatists!”.
Now Georgiy Tambovtsev travels from one Russian youth sports tournament to another, where he represents the occupation authorities of Kherson region. As the journalists found out, he also ” takes care” of the fate of orphans.
On October 19, a Gazelle bus pulled up to the children’s institution. The children were given thirty minutes to pack their belongings and told that they were going to the left bank of the Dnipro River, to occupied Henichesk. The children and their teachers already understood that they would be taken to Russia.
“As far as I understand, it was this bearded man who made the decision to take the children from our centre to Russia,” says Volodymyr Sahaidak.
But another person came to inform them that the children were to be evacuated. The woman introduced herself as the vice-rector of a local university.
The journalists of Slidstvo.Info found out that Yevheniia Chernyshova, the rector of the Kherson State Agrarian and Economic University, was taking children from Snihurivka to Russia. Previously, she was a lecturer at the agronomy faculty of the same university.
Chernyshova helped to organise a fake referendum on the premises of the university on the “accession” of the Kherson region to Russia. And in October 2022, she organised an event called Volunteers for Russia (in Russian the phrase uses the ‘z’ symbol as a connection to the symbols used by the Russian military) with the participation of students to celebrate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s birthday. For this, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office served Chernyshova with a notice of suspicion.
As journalists of Slidstvo.Info found out, Chernyshova is responsible for another crime — she was directly involved in the deportation of Ukrainian orphans to Russia.
The children were taken to Anapa, to the Zhemchuzhina Rossii (Pearl of Russia — transl.) health camp. On the camp’s website, you can find videos and photos of the rooms in which the children were accommodated.
The director of the sanatorium is Alexander Kibkalo, who welcomed the children to the camp on the orders of the Russian government.
So, while Tambovtsev and Chernyshova do the dirty work on the ground, keeping records of children and organising their removal to Russia, Kibalko and the team at the sanatorium receive these deportees and keep them in their camp.
At the top of this structure are the Russian Children’s Ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who give orders for the abduction and detention of Ukrainian children.
After a month in Anapa, volunteers managed to rescue the orphans and evacuate them to Georgia.
The 15 orphans of the Novopetrivske Specialised School were lucky to leave Russia because they were fought for. More than 19,000 Ukrainian children are still in the hands of the occupiers. They are adopted into Russian families, taught Russian history, and forced to obtain Russian passports.