Before the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Kira Obedinsky was a cheerful and beloved 12-year-old girl. Now orphaned, injured and alone in a Russian-controlled hospital in eastern Ukraine, she has become an unwitting pawn in Moscow’s information war.
Obedinsky’s mother died when she was a baby. His father Yevhen Obedinsky, a former captain of Ukraine’s national water polo team, was shot and killed as Russian forces forced their way through the southeastern city of Mariupol on March 17.
A few days later, Kira and her father’s girlfriend attempted to flee town on foot alongside neighbors. But after being injured in a landmine explosion, Kira was taken to a hospital in the Donetsk region, controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
Now Kira’s grandfather, Oleksander, fears he will never see her again. He said that a dissident government official in Donetsk phoned and invited him to go there to claim her, which is impossible because of the war.
He says he spoke to the hospital and was told that Kira would eventually be sent to an orphanage in Russia.
The Russian government said it helped move at least 60,000 Ukrainians to safety across the Russian border. The Ukrainian government said around 40,000 people had been moved against their will, describing it as kidnapping and forced eviction.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said more than 433,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Russia since February 24, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials say thousands of people were forcibly deported to Russian territory after Russian troops blocked safe passage to Ukrainian-held territory and moved evacuees against their will to remote parts of Russia .
Speaking to CNN, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of forcing people fleeing Mariupol into Russia.
“Several thousands, tens of thousands, were forced to evacuate towards the Russian Federation and we don’t know where they are, they left no documentary trace,” the president told CNN.
“And among them are several thousand children, we want to know what happened to them. May they be healthy. Unfortunately, there is simply no information about it.
Moscow has denounced the allegations of forced deportations as lies, alleging Ukraine obstructed its efforts to “evacuate” people to Russia.
But CNN spoke to a number of Ukrainians who said they had only two options: go to Russia or die. In interviews with 10 people, including Mariupol residents and their relatives, many describe Russian and DPR soldiers descending on bomb shelters and ordering those inside to leave immediately.
Nobody knew where they were taken. Five were eventually sent to Russia; three have since done so.
Ukrainian and US officials and independent human rights monitors have also alleged that Russian and separatist troops are processing tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians in so-called “filtration camps” where they are subjected to biometric screening. and their phones and documents are confiscated before they are sent. in Russia.
Oleksander said the Russians also took away Kira’s documents and she will receive new ones in Russia.
Russian media, which has repeatedly downplayed the brutality of the conflict in Ukraine, showed a video of Kira talking happily about how she is sometimes allowed to call her grandfather.
This is ‘proof’ that she was not abducted, according to a Russian TV presenter, who called the claim ‘false Ukrainian’.
Meanwhile, Oleksander received an audio message from Kira telling him not to cry. But the young girl who lost her family, her freedom and her home in the Russian war cannot hold back her own tears.
“I haven’t seen you for so long,” she said. “I want to cry.”