Meduza has covered a story of Yevhen, 39, from Ukraine’s Mariupol who was captured after the war broke out and taken to the infamous Olenivka prison. Meanwhile, his kids were sent to a recreation center in Moscow. After his release, the man prevented Russian citizens from adopting his son and daughters, took them out of Russia and evacuated to Latvia.
Yevhen is a former contract soldier in the Ukrainian army. He is divorced and is now raising three kids: Matvei, 12, Svyatoslava, 7, and Oleksandra, 5.
When the hostilities began, Yevhen realised that it was not safe to stay at home. Him and his children first stayed with their family members and friends. They were later hiding in basements and spent several weeks in a hospital bomb shelter.
On 7 April, the so-called “DPR” (the Donetsk “people's republic”) military arrived there and told everyone to evacuate because “Chechen units would soon arrive for a mopping-up operation”. The man and his three kids were then taken from the evacuation site to a checkpoint.
“They checked my documents and saw that I used to be in the military. They were very ‘happy’ to see me. They locked me and the children in a separate room, told us to wait and left with my documents. Then, a bus came [to fetch those who lived in the bomb shelter] and a separate car for me. They told me, ‘do not stress, you will just leave for a few hours to explain your documents’.”
“I took the documents, including the birth certificates of my kids. I put Matvei and the girls on the bus and asked a woman [I knew] from the bomb shelter to look after them. I hoped that I would be back in 2-3 hours,” Yevhen told Meduza.
The man said that he was captured, tied, and taken to the Novoazov temporary detention facility.
“You don’t know where you are, you are stuffed. I will ask questions and if I see that you are lying, I will either smash your kneecaps or stab you in any part of your body,” an unidentified person was threatening Yevhen and other people in the detention facility.
Yevhen was repeatedly interrogated, kept in small rooms and was forced to sleep on the floor. On 11 April, he was beaten very badly and then taken to a prison in Olenivka. He spent 45 days there in harsh conditions.
On 26 May, Yevhen was released. That same day his children were taken to Moscow, to a recreation center. The official reason was that the woman who accompanied them did not have their birth certificates.
“The social service convinced me that the kids are getting a health treatment and would be soon brought back. They consoled me and gave me the number of the kids’ childminder. I signed a request form to say that I would fetch my children when they get back and we would live in so-and-so address,” the man said.
Yevhen was regularly calling his kids and was going to take them home.
“And then Matvei called me in mid-May. ‘Dad, you have a maximum of five days to take us back, otherwise we will be adopted.’ [Social care workers] offered him to either go to a foster family or an orphanage. He categorically refused to make any decisions before speaking to me. My heart sank after this call,” he said.
“Three new ladies from the social care service came to the center. They said that because of the current developments, serious shelling in Donetsk, we could not be taken to our dad. They said that if we had any relatives in Russia we could try calling them but they [allegedly] would not make it in time to take us. And added: ‘we can either place you in a foster home or an orphanage.’ I said I’d think about it,” Matvei, 12, said.
Volunteers helped Yevhen get to Moscow two days later and get back his three kids. At the same time, the social care workers and the representative for children ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova were assuring him that nobody was going to adopt them, adding that “the kids completely misunderstood [them]”.
Later, volunteers again helped Yevhen and his children, but this time to travel to Riga.