Mykyta, along with 105 Ukrainian children, was illegally deported from the boarding school under Russian occupation
Mykyta Bilanchuk, 9, was illegally taken by the Russians from the Oleshkiv boarding school in October 2022. It took his grandmother Polina 76 days, a DNA test, and help from the volunteers to reunite with Mykyta. Now they are safe in Poland.
At the beginning of 2022, Mykyta was undergoing rehabilitation at the Oleshkiv boarding school for children with disabilities due to eating disorders and muscle weakness. After the beginning of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, the facility in the Kherson region came under occupation. Initially, Russians forcibly took the children under the pretext of “evacuation” to Simferopol in the temporarily occupied Crimea and then transported them to Krasnodar in Russia. From there, Ukrainian children were later relocated to the temporarily occupied Skadovsk in the Kherson region.
Along with Mykyta, Russians illegally deported 105 Ukrainian children. Only in April 2023, journalists from Ukrainian media hromadske could find and verify the list of children taken from the boarding school.
hromadske was also able to find Mykyta’s grandmother, Polina Kindra, who lived in Poland at that time. In September 2023, the child was reunited with her with the help of journalists and the “Save Ukraine” charitable fund.
Their story was told in the investigation “Guide through Hell” by hromadske.
To bring Mykyta back, Polina Kindra decided to go to the temporarily occupied territories. Volunteers from the “Save Ukraine” assisted her in preparing all the necessary documents and planning the route.
“It’s so scary to go there because of all the checkpoints… They [Russians – ed.] check you and take fingerprints. I haven’t slept for three nights…” said Polina Kindra.
For 76 days, Polina Kindra tried to take her grandson back home.
“Then the bus arrived, and Mykyta ran up, and I shouted, ‘Mykyta!’ and he answered, ‘Grandma!’ He kissed me and asked, ‘Did you come for me?’ “ Polina recalls meeting her grandson in June 2023.
Several times, she came to the doors of the boarding school and was met with refusal. In addition, Mykyta’s grandmother had to endure several interrogations. Despite all the necessary documents confirming their family ties and Polina’s guardianship over Mykyta, Russians even compelled the woman to undergo a DNA test.
However, even with a DNA test confirmation, Polina couldn’t get her grandson back. Mykyta was illegally given Russian citizenship. The so-called director of the boarding school, Vitalii Suk, had no right to do this, as the boy had a legal guardian in Ukraine – his grandmother. Furthermore, Suk and the Russians also pressured Polina to take Russian citizenship.
“You have to take a Russian passport, and that’s it… We don’t work with DNA results,” recalled Polina about the challenging process of bringing Mykyta back home.
Eventually, in September 2023, the director of the boarding school agreed to return Mykyta to his grandmother. The boy was handed over personally to Polina by the Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, who is wanted internationally for the abduction of Ukrainian children. In front of about ten cameras, Lvova-Belova smiled and spoke about how she always encourages family reunions. However, behind the scenes, she offered Polina money to stay with her grandson in Russia. The woman firmly refused.
“It’s just a matter of how to endure, for the grandmothers, aunts, uncles whose children were taken away… Russia exerts a strong psychological pressure… If you endure, you will get them back,” told Polina later.
As of October 2023, Polina and her grandson managed to leave the temporarily occupied territories. They are currently safe in Poland. Ahead of them lies a long period of rehabilitation. In particular, Mykyta needs to undergo a preventive examination and begin further treatment after everything he’s been through.