Deportation of children

Russians forcibly separated Sashko from his mother in the filtration camp

Ukrainian boy Sashko from Mariupol. Screenshot from SURGe Ukraine video

Russians captured Sashko [short for Oleksandr] and his mother, Snizhana, in Mariupol in March 2022. They were separated in the filtration camp, unable to say goodbye to each other. Russians told the boy that he would be placed in an orphanage to wait until a Russian family adopted him.

However, thanks to the boy’s courage, his grandmother Liudmyla’s efforts, and the coordinated work of specialized organizations, Sashko returned from the temporarily occupied territories. Now, he keeps looking for his mother.

Witnessing the War informational campaign aims to tell the stories of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through the eyes of Ukrainian children who were forcefully deported, separated from their families, injured, and deprived of their fundamental rights to safety, health, education, and freedom. Deprived of their childhood.

As of May 2024, Ukraine has identified 19,546 children who were illegally and forcibly deported to Russia, Belarus, and temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Thousands more cases may remain unknown. At the same time, only 388 Ukrainian children have been rescued and reunited with their families.

One such story is that of Sashko, shared by the SURGe Project.

In Mariupol, the major victim of Russian aggression

As Russia started its full-scale war against Ukraine in February 2022, Sashko and his mother, Snizhana, lived in Mariupol. The city in the Donetsk region was besieged by Russian forces and suffered from constant shellings. There was no electricity, gas, or water in the building where the family lived. Sashko and his mother cooked on a grill outside, as it was the only way to prepare some food.

Ukrainian boy Sashko from Mariupol.
Screenshot from SURGe Ukraine video

During one of the Russian shellings, the boy received an eye injury: “I heard an explosion and was stunned by it. And then I felt something burning inside me – a hot fragment. I screamed to my mother that my eye was hurting, my eye was burning. My mother quickly took me away. We hid between the garages and waited until the shelling stopped,” Sashko recalls.

Seeking medical care, the boy and his mother went to the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works, where Ukrainian military medics disinfected and bandaged Sashko’s wounded eye.

Separation in captivity

The family stayed at the plant for some time. However, when Ukrainian soldiers defending the place ran out of ammunition, people staying there were taken into captivity. Sashko and his mother, Snizhana, were among the captives, too. Russian soldiers put Ukrainians in Kamaz trucks ‘like animals’ and took them to some hangar.

Sashko’s mum, Snizhana.
Screenshot from SURGe Ukraine video

The place turned out to be the filtration camp in the temporarily occupied village of Bezimenne, the Donetsk region. There, Sashko saw his mother for the last time.

“I sat in the filtration camp, waiting for my mother for several hours. When she was brought back, they [Russians – ed.] didn’t even let me say goodbye to her. I was said to be taken away from my mother to an orphanage – and there I would be adopted by a Russian family,” Sashko says.

The boy was relocated to Novoazovsk and then to Donetsk. A month later, Sashko managed to get a phone and called his grandmother secretly from the bathroom to tell her his location.

Reunion with the grandmother

Sashko’s grandmother, Liudmyla, had not been able to contact her daughter and grandson since February 24, 2022. The woman was worried because she had no information on what had happened to her loved ones in Mariupol.

Sashko’s grandmother, Liudmyla.
Screenshot from SURGe Ukraine video

“But I was still waiting, still waiting for someone to call me someday. On April 19, I got a call from an unknown number. I said, “Who is this?” “Sasha,” he said, “Grandma, take me away from here!” I said, “Sasha, I’ll come get you, my boy. I’ll get you. Just wait!”‘ Liudmyla recalls the long-awaited conversation with her grandson.

She started collecting the documents to get Sashko back. Her friends tried to discourage her from going there, saying she might also be detained. But her answer was always, “How can I not go if my blood is there? He’s waiting for me. I have to go anyway!”

When Liudmyla finally arrived, Sashko was worried that Russians would take him away from her, as they did with his mother. Nevertheless, Liudmyla and Sashko overcame all the obstacles and are currently safe. “We had such emotions that we cried for each other from joy,” Liudmyla describes their long-awaited reunion.

Sashko and his grandmother.
Screenshot from SURGe Ukraine video

But Sasha is still waiting for his mother, Snizhana. He hopes she will return to him one day and that the family will be back together again. 

“If the whole world could hear me, I would say it is necessary to win this war as soon as possible. For all the children to see their relatives. For all the parents to return home. And for all to be well in this country… and the whole world,” says Sashko, 12 years old at the time of the interview.

Find more stories of Ukrainian children amidst Russia’s full-scale invasion and the up-to-date stats on the matter through the Witnessing the War informational campaign.


Explore more

Deportation of children

Illia from Mariupol was injured and lost his mother to Russian shelling

Read More

Mriia, Druzhbа, Promenystyi: Russian camps for “re-education” of children kidnapped from Kherson

Read More
Deportation of children

Mykyta, along with 105 Ukrainian children, was illegally deported from the boarding school under Russian occupation

Read More
Deportation of children

Artem, a Ukrainian teenage boy, was deported to the temporarily occupied territories by Russia

Read More
Mariupol deportation
Eyewitness testimony

Mariupol resident Dmytro Radchenko told how he was deported to Russia

Read More
Deportation of children

In Mariupol, the occupiers killed the father of a 12-year-old girl and planned to deport her to Russia 

Read More