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The true tragedy of Ukrainian children

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Liubov Abravitova is the Ambassador of Ukraine to South Africa.

Anyone with even an ounce of empathy should have a hard time reading this, and there aren’t enough trigger warnings for what is to come.

I, for once, have been putting this aside for too long. But, as a mom of two Ukrainian boys, I am now going to take a deep breath, pull myself together and talk to you about our Ukrainian children, our children living in this barbaric war.  

The light version, the one that everyone talks about, is that our children are suffering because war disrupts their lives and they are deprived of basic necessities like food, water or shelter. They are left without healthcare. Their development is stunted. Their education is suffering.

Unfortunately, that is a sanitised version, devoid of real grimness, and it exists primarily so that people can cope – a sometimes superficial brush over the true nature of this war and its consequences for our children that gives people of the world still some kind of plausible deniability, just enough to move on with their lives and go about their business as usual. 

For us Ukrainians, this option is not available. We’ve gone far beyond this sanitised version. 

We have story after story, video after video, case after case of the most horrifying crimes against our children etched into our brains, forever. 

Our children are killed, tortured, raped. They are bombed, left for dead without food or water. They are abducted and deported in unbelievable numbers, they are manipulated and broken down mentally and physically to fit Putin’s narratives. Children are found in large numbers in mass graves. There have been hundreds of cases of rape recorded, some of very young children. 

Every time territories have been de-occupied, the horrors of what’s been done to our children flood our lives. Every time we’ve managed to push back Putin’s army, we’ve had an avalanche of horrifying reports of our children’s suffering. Child rape victims include toddlers and even infants. We’ve had cases of children being violated in front of their mothers. 

And for those who think this is not something that a human being would do – let me be the one to disabuse you of that notion: some of them even filmed these horrors. 


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Furthermore, some have been identified because of those exact videos. Here’s part of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to the Lithuanian Parliament last year, talking about the evidence we’ve received: 

“And even an infant! It’s just scary to talk about it. But it’s true, it happened.

“Even this person, this Russian soldier Bychkov has been identified. From Pskov. A paratrooper or special services officer who sent a video of it to his friends. A video of what he was doing to the infant. How he mocks the baby!

‘This is what the Russian military is like. The ‘defender’ of children. This is a ‘special operation’ planned in Moscow. This is the story of the struggle for the ‘Russian world’. This is what the Russian army and Russian paratroopers will now be associated with. From Pskov.

“The rape of a baby…

“Russian propagandists have apparently already begun to justify this. Apparently, they will say, as always, that this didn’t happen, and if it happened, it was for the protection of ‘Russian-speaking people’.  And they will still be responsible for this crime – as well as every other such crime – as will the propagandists. As will those who educate such paratroopers. From Pskov.

“As will those in Europe who do not turn off their televisions when Russian propaganda comes on.

“And here’s something I’d like to know. How now will Russia’s minister of defence and the other authors of this ‘special operation’ evaluate its results? After such crimes as this. After ‘feats’ like this one, performed by the Russian soldier Bychkov?

“Maybe the Russian minister of defence will invite Pskov paratroopers like this to protect their children and grandchildren? Is that a ‘no’, dear minister? I’m sure he would be too scared.” 

We are now reliving the horrors that happened this time last year, when  Russia understood this wasn’t going to be an easy land grab and Ukrainians weren’t going to allow killers and terrorists to run their lives and they started mass killing Ukrainians, including our children. They bombed schools, kindergartens and children’s hospitals. Maternity wards were not spared. They targeted and shot cars that had ‘Kids’ written on the windshields. 

And then, of course, there’s the theatre in Mariupol. The huge drama theatre remained untouched until people decided to shelter their kids there. As soon as thousands of people moved into the theatre with their kids and wrote “Children” in huge letters on the pavement in the front and the back of the theatre, Russia dropped multiple bombs until the theatre collapsed. They buried all of the bodies under the rubble and later just poured the concrete over to hide their war crimes. The horrifying crimes against our people, our children. 

The top propagandist on Russian state television, Anton Krasovskiy, who called for Ukrainian children to be drowned in rivers and, those who survived, to be burned, is still the top figure at Russia TV and the number one employee of Margarita Simonyan, the head of RT.

We have no idea to this day how many people were killed in Mariupol, and we won’t know until our land is de-occupied. A great majority of the city has been destroyed by large-scale Russian bombardments and a yet-uknown number of the people were buried under rubble. There are some reports with the number of documented deaths being as high as 87,000. One can imagine how many of the murdered in Mariupol alone were children. 

Another unimaginable deed for a normal human being – but completely normal for the Russians – is kidnapping children. We cannot even start to imagine how many kids were really kidnapped over the past year, but at the very least official numbers and documented cases go up to tens of thousands. Parents have no way to protect themselves in war zones and are sometimes killed and their children deported – a lot of them from boarding schools and orphanages to “summer camps” – and they are never brought back home.

There are multiple interviews on Russian TV, where teachers claim those kids “don’t understand the Russian language or express any love for Russia and Putin” and how “they will change all that”. 

All of the above – and heaps more heartbreaking facts and cases – is why I was overwhelmingly happy to read the headlines last week: “ICC judges issue arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova.” 

Our children can never get their lives back. Our killed, tortured and raped little brave souls, our handicapped, our deported, every brave boy and girl may even see some justice in this world. 

Putin and his main helper – Lvova-Belova – are at the very start of their journey as prosecuted war criminals. Of course, unlawful deportation isn’t the only crime these warmongers have committed, but I’m very happy that their prosecution will start with getting justice for our children.

May all of them get justice for their ruined lives and lives that ended too quickly. Please say a prayer for all of them. 

The youngest child killed in Ukraine was only two days old. His mom lovingly called him Serhiyko. She dreams of him being hungry, so she visits him at the cemetery and brings him cookies and chocolates. DM

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  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Thank you, Ambassador, for bringing the harsh, cruel and evil reality that these diabolical Putin Russians are doing. Besides weeping for the fate of these innocents, it overwhelms one with extreme revulsion, red-hot anger and burning revenge. I know exactly how I would make these murderous monsters suffer a hugely painful and slow death, but I appreciate that it will not be printed. And to think that there are idiots and morons, like our disgusting and hideous government, that not only turn a blind eye to such bestiality, but actively support the devil Putin and his vile followers. Ukraine will be free and justice will be served one day – one can only hope and pray that it ends soon. GOD bless Ukraine, long live Ukraine 🇺🇦 SLAVA UKRAINE 🙏🙏💪💪

  • debruinfam says:

    Can’t a copy be sent to Auntie Naledi and be confronted on TV ?

  • LOUISE NIEHAUS says:

    I follow the Ukrainian news outlets daily and I concur with every word of Ambassodor Abravitova’s article. The brutality of the killing fields left behind by the Russian Orcs in Ukraine are beyond any form of humanity. When I post a comment on the various Ukrainian news outlets I am ashamed to write “from South Africa”. The South African government’s stance on the Russian war is reprehensible. May Ukraine REMEMBER who supported them in a time of need. SLAVA UKRAINE – victory shall be yours!!!

  • Rencia Cloete says:

    As an ordinary South-African, I hang my head in absolute shame over what the supposed leaders of this country are doing. I grieve with you Ukraine. I try every day to visualize the horror being over and behind us, criminal Putin bought to justice and healing commence.
    I am so so sorry for this. Unreal.

  • Eulalie Spamer says:

    In the face of stories like this and the ICC’s warrant for the arrest of Putin for Russian war crimes against children, is our President going to respect the verdict of the ICC or roll out the red carpet for this psychopath?

    • George Laurens says:

      Unfortunately, our president will keep mum about it.

      My heart is absolutely with Ukraine and I hope, that when that idiot is arrested, Ukraine will know that it was politics that denied the voice of ordinary South Africans. Somehow the ANC still feels the need to bend the knee to those that supported the same ideology that can’t work (socialism).

      I don’t have kids myself, but if someone did anything to my dogs, I would take justice into my own hands, so there is no way that I could possibly understand the heartache of seeing children suffer.

      I wish I worked for the Wagner Group, because it would be the end of them. What they’re busy with is so messed up, it’s just plain wrong.

      I know words can’t relay my anger/sorrow/hate for your losses but know that SA (not our government), is standing by you

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