“I did not recognize those kids with whom we traveled in April on the train to their new life,” Ksenia Mishonova, the children’s rights commissioner for the Moscow region, said in a statement. “Now they are our little fellow citizens!”
Some children were indeed orphaned or abandoned in Ukraine and prefer their lives in Russia. The Times spoke to one teenager from Mariupol who said he had no family back home. He said his foster family loved him like he was their own.
Others, like Anya, long to return.
She participated in a weekly class called Conversations About Important Things. The half-hour lesson, introduced recently by Mr. Putin, teaches children to be proud of Russia.
Sometimes, Anya said, she cries, wondering if something horrible has happened to her family.
After more than a month of reporting, Times reporters reached Anya’s mother, Oksana, in Ukraine. With no job, no internet access, a small disability pension and a war going on, she said she had no idea how to find her daughter.
“I’m looking everywhere, but I can’t find her,” she said. “She is looking for me.”
She said she did not know that Anya had been taken to Russia.
Reporters told Anya and Oksana how to contact each other. The prospect of Anya returning home, though, is unclear. Ukrainian officials have been tight-lipped about how they have gotten dozens of children back from Russia.
“Is this really her number?” Anya asked.
Anastasia Kuznietsova, Alina Lobzina and Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.