Children taken from Ukrainian families

June 15, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 12
Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe | Manitoba Correspondent
Assistance provided by the Uman Help Centre, a partner of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine. (Photos courtesy of Uman Help Center)

Parents in Molochansk, Ukraine, awoke one morning in May to a message from Russian authorities: “Dear parents: Evacuation has been announced at the school. Today, arrive at the school building with documents for the child and a minimum of things for a couple of weeks.”

The Mennonite Centre in Ukraine relayed this news to its supporters in one of its frequent email updates. The organization provides humanitarian aid to people in Molochansk, which is the former Molotschna Mennonite settlement, and Zaporizhzhia, the former Chortitza Mennonite settlement. Both areas are currently under Russian control.

The centre has been sending out regular communications since the war began, at first almost daily and now weekly. Its two main staff, who have had to flee the country and are working remotely, translate updates from their partner organizations in the thick of the conflict.

Investigations by organizations like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court show that countless parents throughout Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine have been forced to release their children to Russian authorities, or pressured to send their children to summer camps to escape the war. Children are taken from orphanages and other state-run institutions or abducted when their parents are killed, detained or become separated while fleeing. Children are sent to re-education camps or adopted by Russian families.

The Government of Ukraine reports that since the invasion began in February of 2022, more than 19,000 children have been abducted. Other estimates surpass 300,000.

The Mennonite Centre, which opened in 2001, has shifted from its usual work, which included buying supplies for schools, running food banks and helping pay individuals’ medical costs. Now, they’re helping provide food, shelter and emergency needs to refugees within Ukrainian-held areas.

“Pre-war, we were giving humanitarian aid into the area where our ancestors used to live,” says Alvin Suderman, board chair of the Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine (FOMCU)—a separate volunteer-run organization also founded in 2001—to fundraise, raise awareness and provide support for the centre. It’s this historical interest and personal connection to the place that sparked the passion of Suderman and his fellow board members, who are located in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Michigan. They hope to eventually move their focus back to Molochansk and Zaporizhzhia, as they’re able.

In March and April of 2022, right after Russia invaded Ukraine, FOMCU collected over $1 million in donations, 100 percent of which went directly to helping people. They’re currently sending around $20,000 of donations per week to aid refugees. 

Assistance provided by the Uman Help Centre, a partner of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine. (Photos courtesy of Uman Help Center)

Uman Help Centre supports Ukrainians.

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