Drastic Measures in Ukraine

03/01/2023
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    Hospital staff care for orphaned children at a hospital in Kherson, Ukraine. Throughout the war, Russian authorities have been accused of moving Ukrainian children to Russia to raise them as their own. (AP/Bernat Armangue)
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    Orphaned children sleep in cribs at a hospital in Kherson, Ukraine, on November 22, 2022. (AP/Bernat Armangue)
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    Kherson hospital staff created false records to keep children from being sent to Russia. (AP/Bernat Armangue)
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    This building is the regional children’s home in Kherson. At least 1,000 children were seized from schools and orphanages in the region during Russia’s eight-month occupation of the area. (AP/Bernat Armangue)
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    Russia holds summer camps for Ukrainian orphans and places them with Russian families. Yaroslava Rogachyova, right, attends such a camp in July 2022. She evacuated from Donetsk and was waiting for a foster family in Moscow, Russia. (AP)
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Within hours of Russia’s February 2022 attack on Ukraine, one hospital’s staff leapt to action—with a plan to save babies.

Employees at Kherson children’s hospital knew what invading Russians did with orphans: deported them to Russia or Russian-held areas. Russian parents would then raise the youngsters as Russian citizens.

Local authorities say troops took at least 1,000 children in the Kherson region during an eight-month occupation. Reporters assert that Russians tell Ukrainian children they’re not wanted, use them for propaganda, and give them citizenship.

To stop the appalling practice, hospital staff launched an elaborate deception. Head doctor Inna Kholodnyak says they “used every trick they knew.”

“We deliberately wrote false information that the children were sick and could not be transported,” admits Dr. Olga Pilyarska. “We were scared,” she says, but “decided that we would save the children at any cost.”

Staff invented diseases for 11 babies. Infants suddenly developed “pulmonary bleeding,” “uncontrollable convulsions,” or needed “artificial ventilation,” Pilyarska says of the phony records.

Nearby, Volodymyr Sahaidak runs a rehabilitation center. He faked paperwork to hide 52 children. He placed some with staff. Others went to distant relatives. Some remained with him. “It seemed that if I did not hide my children,” he says, “they would simply be taken away from me.”

Moving multiple youngsters to safety wasn’t easy. During Russian occupation, troops separated orphans at checkpoints. Sahaidak got creative. Once, he claimed that traveling children had received hospital treatment. An “aunt” was delivering them to their pregnant mother waiting on the other side of a river.

Good people sometimes fight evil by deceiving the wicked. Scripture includes examples of well-meaning liars. Remember Rahab, Tamar, and the midwives in Egypt? The Bible neither condemns nor outrightly praises their untruths. But God does commend their faith and fear of the Lord above humankind.

Sadly, Ukraine’s health workers couldn’t save all children. In the Kherson orphanage, witnesses say Russians took 50 children to Crimea. Many are still missing.

Russian authorities insist moving children to Russia protects them. The Russian Foreign Ministry claims to be searching for relatives of parentless children and attempting to send them home. One Russian official says some children could have returned to Ukraine but refused. Those accounts could not be verified.

As Russian troops retreated last fall, nurse Tetiana Pavelko took drastic action of a different kind. Worried that troops would steal babies from her hospital, she ran to the infant ward. There she quickly adopted a 10-month-old girl, naming her Kira. Well done, Nurse Pavelko.

Why? Danger and fear can bring out the best—or worst—in human nature. Bravery, resourcefulness, and love are traits worthy of developing, especially in tough circumstances.

Pray for those in both Ukraine and Russia to make wise and godly decisions and for the forces of evil to be defeated by the God who sees.