A group of kidnapped Ukrainian children held in Russian camps have been freed.
The 17 youths were taken to Crimea when Russian troops took over their towns.
They said they were told their families had abandoned them and were beaten with iron bars if they spoke out Ukraine.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen praised the release of the children, which was organized by the NGO save Ukraine.
She said: “It’s a terrifying reminder of the darkest times in our history what’s happening there to deport children. This is a war crime.”
More than 16,000 Ukrainian youths have been kidnapped since the Kremlin invasion.
The International Criminal Court has accused Russia of trying to “re-educate” the children, which included using threats of violence as punishment.
One teenager said he was told: ‘We’ll take you to a boarding school, you’ll sit there and you’ll understand everything.
“One girl was hit on her back, she had a big bruise on her back where the pole was.
“We were sitting in the hall and someone shouted: ‘Honour to Ukraine!’
“They were taken away. But I don’t know what happened to him.’
Taisa, 15, described the intense political indoctrination.
She said: “If we didn’t sing the (Russian) national anthem, they forced us to write a statement. We were shown Putin’s speech over the New Year.’
Children were seen running into their parents’ arms after arriving in Kiev.
Denys Zaporozhchenko hugged three of his children who were among the 17 returnees.
The father last saw his children in Cherson in October – when they left for the Russian summer camp.
He sent his children to Crimea, expecting fierce fighting in the region and thinking that this was the lesser evil.
He told AFP: “Russian officials have promised to send them to these camps for a minute or two.
“By the time we realized we shouldn’t have let her go, it was too late.”
His 11-year-old daughter Yana said: “Everything was like in normal camps”, but the camp officials “made us sing and dance when the inspectors came from Moscow”.
One mother, Inesda Vertosh, said her son was unwilling to talk about his experiences in the camp.
‘He looks at me and says, ‘Mom, I don’t want to tell you, you wouldn’t sleep at night.’
Myroslava Kharchenko, a lawyer working for Save Ukraine, said families are often pressured.
She said: “(Russian officials) told the parents that they have an hour to think and that if the Ukrainians get there earlier, they will bring American mercenaries who will beat and rape the children.”
Russia insists on saving Ukrainian children from horrors of war.
A week ago the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin, accusing him of committing war crimes in Ukraine.
The warrant aims to bring him before a tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, for alleged trafficking in Ukrainian children from the occupied territories to Russia.
Reports from the United Nations and several human rights organizations have described a “vast network” of detention centers and convoys in which civilians are being systematically driven from their homes by invading Russian soldiers.
Allegations include children, the elderly and people with disabilities who have been separated from their families, and inmates who have been beaten, electrocuted and threatened with execution.
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