In the relentless throes of conflict pervading Ukraine, countless mothers have embarked on missions of exceptional courage — braving volatile territories and traversing hostile lines to reunite with their estranged children.

The Call of Maternal Love

Natalya Zhornyk is one such heroic woman. Her life was turned upside down when Russian forces abruptly removed her teenage son, Artem, from his school last autumn. Weeks of unnerving uncertainty ensued until a phone call ended the silence. It was Artem, leveraging a borrowed phone to deliver a desperate message: “Mom, come and get me.”

Reuniting with Artem, however, wasn’t straightforward. The battleground was between them — Artem and his classmates had been transported to a school deep within Russian-controlled Ukraine, while Zhornyk was stranded on the other side of a war zone. Her mission seemed nearly impossible, with the border crossings to Russian-occupied territory shuttered.

A Journey of Courage

Against all odds, Zhornyk, alongside a group of determined women and the charitable organization Save Ukraine, embarked on a daunting 3,000-mile journey through Poland, Belarus, and Russia. They aimed to infiltrate Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine and Crimea to rescue Artem and 15 other children.

The struggle didn’t conclude with the retrieval of the children. Braving hostile borders and scrutinizing police checkpoints, these audacious women had to navigate another challenging journey — returning to their homeland, Ukraine.

Displaced Youth: A Generation at Stake

Zhornyk’s plight echoes the horrifying reality of thousands of Ukrainian children displaced or forcibly relocated to camps or institutions in Russia or Russian-held territories since the invasion. Ukrainian officials and human rights advocates have strongly condemned these forced relocations, branding them as a sinister strategy to strip Ukraine of its future generation by indoctrinating them into Russian allegiance and eradicating Ukrainian cultural identity.

Ukrainian government estimates that over 19,000 children have been forcibly relocated or deported. However, some sources suggest that the actual number is a staggering 150,000. This has plunged parents, already grappling with the harsh realities of Russian occupation, displacement, and bombardment, into further months of worry and despair.