During the occupation of Kherson, Russians took Ukrainian babies to Moscow and the temporarily occupied territories. Local collaborators, who were promoted to senior positions, helped abduct the children.
The Slidstvo.Info journalists visited the Kherson Regional Children’s Clinical Hospital and the Children’s Home and asked the staff who and how took the children to Russia. The video has English subtitles.
“DOCTORS ARE OUTSIDE POLITICS”
The Kherson Children’s Regional Hospital has an intensive care unit for children aged 0 to 29 days. Infants with respiratory and neurological disorders, as well as children with congenital malformations, are sent here. In addition, the hospital has its own surgical department, which operates on children under three years of age.
During the occupation of Kherson, Russia brought its propaganda media to the city to film the “joy” of the local population at the arrival of the “Russian world.”
Olha Pilyarska, the head of the neonatal anesthesiology department, recalls that five people in military uniforms, with cameras and humanitarian aid, entered the hospital to see the department and film a story for Russian television.
“I said that you can see the department, but I won’t give you an interview, I don’t want to. They (the Russians – ed.) started telling me that ‘doctors are outside politics’. Yes, doctors are outside of politics, but everyone has the right for their own opinion,” says Olha Pilyarska.
The doctor says that she refused to take the humanitarian aid and pretend on camera that she was waiting for the Russians to arrive: “Some kind of joy had to be portrayed. They wanted to show that Kherson was happy, but it was not happy at all.”
“ALL BABIES WERE LABELED AS BEING IN EXTREMELY SERIOUS CONDITION”
During the 9 months of Kherson’s occupation, almost 200 babies were treated in the neonatal anesthesiology department alone. Some of them were abandoned by their parents.
After the city was liberated, Ukrainian services began issuing birth certificates for children without parents. They did not issue the documents to the children so that the occupiers could not register them as Russian citizens.
“They didn’t issue them because it would be a Russian birth certificate, and we didn’t want that, lest they take it away, lest they take us away,” says Olha Pilyarska.
Tetyana Pavelko, a nurse at the Kherson Children’s Regional Hospital, told the journalists that after the so-called evacuation was announced, two women came to the hospital with a Russian soldier to look at the babies they wanted to take away.
There were three babies in the neonatal ward – 3, 6 and 9 months old – and they were taken away, they said they were going to be treated professionally, and then their fate is unknown, because they were from an orphanage,” says Pavelko.
The head of the neonatal anesthesiology department recalls that the hospital staff united and hid all the expensive equipment from the Russians. And when the forced evacuation of people from Kherson began, the occupiers demanded from the head of the department lists of children in the department with information about their health.
“Here we transferred them (children – ed.) to an extremely serious condition according to the documents, changed all the diaries and put artificial lung ventilation devices to simulate the disease. So that they would not evacuate the children,” says Pilyarska.
“CHILDREN WERE SELECTED TO BE TAKEN TO MOSCOW”
The Russians were very interested in the orphans who were in the Kherson Regional Children’s Hospital. Natalia Liutikova, the head of the infant treatment unit, tells the journalists that a Russian official from Moscow, accompanied by the director of the Children’s Home, came to see her and asked to see two babies.
“They were undergoing treatment – both children were diagnosed with obstructive bronchitis, which is accompanied by suffocation. At that time, the children had already recovered from a serious condition and received only antibacterial therapy,” the woman recalls.
According to Natalia Liutikova, the Russian woman was very interested in the children, asking “Are they nice? Are they good?”, referring to whether the children had disabilities.
“She was satisfied with everything: both the condition and the conditions of stay. At the same time, the director called and asked if I could check the children out. I said no, because the children’s condition was moderate… Since then, she called me every day and told me that those children had been selected to be taken to Moscow,” Liutikova recalls.
After the head of the department refused to sign the children out and hand them over, the Moscow-based manager waited until the end of the day, when all the staff would go home, to pick up the babies.
“We went home at 6 p.m., and at 6:30 p. m. the doctor on duty called to say that he had received an order from the acting chief doctor to take the children to the Children’s Home – in our hospital car, and the next day, according to the Children’s Home staff, they were taken away,” says Natalia Liutikova.
WHO HELPED ABDUCT THE CHILDREN
The order to discharge the children so that they could be taken away from the hospital was given by the acting chief physician, 70-year-old Viktor Burdovitsyn. Before the occupation of Kherson, the man worked as the head of the medical service, and after the arrival of the Russians, he became the “face” of the hospital – the collaborator willingly appeared in propaganda materials, said that medicine was ” outside politics,” and thanked the occupiers for their help.
It is also known that Burdovitsyn gave the Russians access to medical records and personal files (with contacts and addresses) of local National Police officers. The documents were kept in the hospital. After that, people appeared to be under the threat of detention and further torture in basements. In June 2022, the Prosecutor General’s Office notified him of suspicion of treason.
“I did not betray my homeland. I have lived in my homeland, I was born here, and I plan to continue to live here,” Viktor Burdovitsyn tells the propaganda media.
However, the collaborator’s plans have changed, as former colleagues say that the man left Kherson with the Russians during the occupiers’ retreat. Currently, Burdovitsyn’s whereabouts are unknown.
In June 2022, the Russians appointed a new director of the Children’s Home, 69-year-old Tetiana Zavalska. She was happy to talk to Russian “journalists” and even starred in the movie “Russian Kherson. We have been waiting for this for 30 years”.
On camera, the woman told the propagandists that she had been waiting for the “Russian world” for 30 years and considers herself a Slavic, not a Ukrainian: “I have high hopes. Yes, I have been waiting for this for 30 years. But what do I have hope for now? For Russia.”
“She was a doctor here. The other six out of seven doctors left, they did not want to cooperate with the ‘new government’. She was the only one who wanted to, and she was made the head of the hospital,” says a guard at the Children’s Home.
According to the man, it was Tetiana Zavalska who showed the children to Russian journalists and eventually helped the occupiers take them from Kherson to the Russian-controlled territories.