“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.” – Dave Pelzer, A Child Called “It.”

Nothing makes me angrier than hearing stories of abused, innocent children. There is a special place in Hell reserved for people who abuse kids, and when convicted of it, we should see that they get to it in a hurry.

Manuel Fontaine, emergency programs director for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), reported through the Associated Press in April that nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children had been displaced from their homes then. That’s 4.8 million kids. He called the number “quite incredible” and said he had not seen such a rapid evacuation in his 31 years of humanitarian work.

It may sound odd to hear, but in many ways, the displaced children are the lucky ones. The website Notes from Poland reported in early September that there are an estimated 700,000 – 800,000 school-aged refugees living in their country. Many will begin the school year in brick-and-mortar classrooms; others are set up for online learning.

Ukrainian children on the first day of school in Poland
Ukrainian children during their first day of school in Poland. Screenshot from YouTube and ITV News

Many of the children who have remained in the war-torn regions of Ukraine, occupied by Russian forces, have not been so lucky. UNICEF has verified that at least 972 children have been killed as a direct result of the fighting, and they say the actual number is much higher. Among those killed by Russian soldiers was five-week-old baby Vanyushka. He was born shortly before the war started. Ukraine was at peace. Of course, the Russians changed that on February 24th, and by March 2nd, the war had made its way to Vanyushka’s home city of Kherson. The family decided to evacuate to safety, but they never made it. Instead, the family was stopped by a Russian checkpoint.

Vanyushka’s uncle, Dennis, heard what happened next. He was on the phone with his mother as they were stopped. She was traveling with the baby and his five-year-old sister, Sophia. In an interview with ITV News, Dennis tells how he could hear the baby crying; he could tell he was hurt. Dennis then heard small arms fire rip through the car. He said the baby kept crying for about two minutes before being permanently silent. No one survived the attack. Vanyushka’s sister Sofia was also killed in addition to their mother, Irina, and grandparents, Anna and Oleg.

Five week old baby killed as family tries to flee Ukraine
Some of the children never made it out of the country. Five-week-old baby Vanyushka (shown here with his mother, Irina) was killed while trying to escape with his family. Screenshot from YouTube and ITV News

This past Friday, another group from the United Nations, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine, published the findings of a study they had done for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights website. As reported through The Hill, the investigation uncovered disturbing instances of unlawful confinement, torture, and rape of children. The group revealed, “Investigating cases related to sexual and gender-based violence present specific challenges. The Commission has found that some Russian Federation soldiers committed such crimes. These acts amounted to different types of violations of rights, including sexual violence, torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment.”

The abuse wasn’t just confined to the youth; the UN uncovered cases of sexual and/or gender-based violence in individuals aged 4-82 years old. The Commission was founded in March of 2022 after reports of human rights violations by the Russians started flooding into the UN. Below I will provide a synopsis of the September 23rd report.

The report was delivered by Erik Møse, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. The briefing explained how the investigators tried to build a dialogue with members of the Russian Federation, but to no avail. Nevertheless, they said they would continue their efforts in that regard. He spoke about how the Commission has visited 27 towns and interviewed over 150 victims and witnesses, always careful to respect their feelings and privacy. They visited mass graves as well as places of detention and torture. As a result of what they witnessed, the Commission came to a reasonable conclusion that multiple war crimes had been committed.

From visiting multiple schools and hospitals, they saw firsthand the damage caused by Russian weapons fired on civilian targets. They read the reports on the causes of death of the victims. One survivor is reported as saying to them, “I don’t live, I just exist; I have nothing left in my soul.” Mr. Møse noted that most of the attacks seemed to have been carried out with no distinctions made between civilian occupants and military combatants.

Many were surprised and troubled by the evidence of the number of executions of civilians that had clearly taken place. There were single gunshot wounds to the back of the head on multiple victims whose hands had been tied behind their backs. Sometimes, throats were slit. Witnesses told countless stories of how old and young alike were subject to electrical shock, forced nudity, and daily beating while being held in detention facilities.

Particularly troublesome were cases where children were raped, tortured, unlawfully confined, and killed. There were multiple instances where family members were forced to watch these atrocities take place. As might be expected, the Committee found that repeated exposure to this level of violence and cruelty had a seriously deleterious effect on the mental health of the survivors.

Mr. Møse thanked the group for their attention and said the work of the Committee would continue and they would report back later.

With the recent uncovering of mass graves in Izium, it, unfortunately, seems that their work will not be slowing down at all.