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Russia kidnapped me and thousands more. We need US to help Ukraine free other stolen children

OpinionRussia kidnapped me and thousands more. We need US to help Ukraine free other stolen children

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I was just a teenager when Russian officials kidnapped me and my 11-year-old brother Serhiy from our home in Ukraine. What came next were the worst 9 months of my life.   

Serhiy and I are orphans from Kharkiv but when Russia launched its war, we relocated to Vovchansk, a nearby city, to live in a foster family. We hid in a basement for months, until Russian authorities occupied our town and took custody of my brother and me.  

We wanted to stay with our foster parents, but the Russians put us on a bus with other children. I was sent to Shebekino, a town near Belgorod, and my brother to Gelendzhik in Krasnodar Krai across the Russian border. 

KEY NATO ALLY SHOCKS WITH ITS ‘SINGLE LARGEST’ PLEDGE TO UKRAINE: ‘THEY NEED OUR SUPPORT’  

We were told that this trip would last three weeks. But we were separated by 900 miles for nine months. Serhiy and I didn’t realize it at the time, but we had just been abducted by Russia.   

Ksenia Koldin and her brother Serhiy are Ukrainians who were kidnapped by Russia. (Save Ukraine)

Ksenia Koldin and her brother Serhiy are Ukrainians who were kidnapped by Russia. (Save Ukraine)

What does this have to do with Americans, or the support Ukraine so desperately needs?  

Legislation that will provide critical assistance to Ukraine has passed through Congress and has been signed by President Joe Biden. Speaker Mike Johnson has said “tyrants” like Russian President Vladimir Putin are “watching to see if America will stand up for its allies and our own interests around the globe.”  

The assistance package sends a clear message to Putin: the U.S. is not backing down. Ukrainians are grateful for this message, and we are asking the U.S. and all Americans to continue to stand by us as we continue to fight Putin and try to preserve our national identity. 

Ukrainians are counting on the U.S. to overcome the internal divisions that have delayed this desperately needed assistance and emboldened Russia. We know it is hard to support a small country thousands of miles away when there are so many other priorities at home. I am hopeful that my story will show Americans why it is so important to stand with Ukraine to ensure the survival of our people, our values, and our culture.  

Ksenia Koldin testifies at the Helsinki Commission Hearing about how 19,000 Ukrainian children have been kidnapped by Russia. (Myong-Hun Oh)

Ksenia Koldin testifies at the Helsinki Commission Hearing about how 19,000 Ukrainian children have been kidnapped by Russia. (Myong-Hun Oh)

When the Russians took me, I was sent to a technical school where I was subjected to daily false stories about Ukrainians and sometimes even insults. One day, I was called to the principal’s office and when I got there, she had citizenship documents ready for me to sign. I was stunned and disgusted. I had never been more afraid, but I refused to become a Russian citizen.   

The principal glowered at me with hatred in her eyes. She berated me for being “stupid.” Moments later, I was expelled and sent packing, in a country that I did not know, and that hated who I was.   

After being expelled, I moved in with a friend. I was desperate to return home. That is when I learned about Save Ukraine, an organization rescuing kidnapped children and supporting their recovery. Over the next three weeks, a secret network guided me to safety. I cannot provide details without putting these brave volunteers in danger, as Russia is actively seeking to prevent more kidnapped children from leaving and sharing their stories.   

After Save Ukraine helped me return home, I needed to get my brother out too.  

Ksenia Koldin hugs her brother Serhiy. Initially, he was reluctant to leave Russia because he had been bombarded by propaganda against Ukraine. (Save Ukraine)

Ksenia Koldin hugs her brother Serhiy. Initially, he was reluctant to leave Russia because he had been bombarded by propaganda against Ukraine. (Save Ukraine)

I found him in a new foster family, but he was not the boy I knew. He had been subjected to months of Russian propaganda and manipulation. He was like a puppet, saying things that I knew he did not believe – that Ukraine was run by Nazis, that nobody in Ukraine cared about him and that he had no future unless he became a Russian citizen.    

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When I begged him to return home with me, he refused.    

Hour after hour ticked by as we argued. As I was about to lose hope, he came to his senses and agreed to come home with me.   

We were lucky. But there are 19,000 kidnapped Ukrainian children still in Russia. The Russian government bombards them with propaganda and abuse to weaken their Ukrainian identity. Many are punished for speaking Ukrainian.  

The assistance package sends a clear message to Putin: the U.S. is not backing down. Ukrainians are grateful for this message, and we are asking the U.S. and all Americans to continue to stand by us as we continue to fight Putin and try to preserve our national identity. 

Most alarmingly, many of the young men are forced to join the military when they turn 18. They are trained to fight against their own people and brainwashed into hating the United States, the enemy of the Russian nation. Some of them are then deployed to the front lines of the war.   

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In January of this year, I shared my story with Members of Congress. I am sharing my story again to ensure that no more children experience the same abduction, brainwashing and trauma.   

Ukraine’s democracy will not survive without U.S. assistance, both to fight off Russia’s unprovoked aggression and to rebuild the future Russia is trying to steal from Ukraine’s children.   

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