Putin ‘traps Ukrainian kids in Crimean summer camp to use as bargaining chips’

Putin and his rabble stand accused of trapping Ukrainian children in summer camps in Crimea.

Russia had offered places in summer camps to children in occupied areas of Ukraine for free, but is now refusing to allow them to return to their families.

Russia says it won't return the youngsters due to fighting in the areas, though many fear the Kremlin is looking to use the children as a bargaining chip.

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Parents are permitted to collect their kids in person, but this would require crossing a checkpoint on the frontline or travelling into Russia via the Baltic states.

One woman called Nadia told the Guardian her 14-year-old son had been stuck at the camp for more than two months, having arrived in October where he was supposed to stay for just two weeks.

Appallingly, Nadia has received a series of messages from a man purporting to be the camp leader, telling her that her son would not be able to return to his hometown of Kherson in Ukraine as he held "pro-Ukrainian views."

She was originally told that her son could not return due to "safety reasons".

The camp leader also sent her a voice message which said: "You are in Russia. You shouldn't be doing different [types] of weird bullshit."

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There is speculation that Russia is subjecting Ukrainian children to a kind of re-education that seeks to erase Ukrainian identity altogether.

Dmytro Lubinets, Kyiv's human rights ombudsman, said the latest tactics formed part of Moscow's "genocide" against Ukraine and that it had no interest in allowing the children to return home safely.

Video footage of the summer camps has been shared online, and appears to show Ukrainian children singing the Russian national anthem and even communist-era songs.

It is estimated there are almost 5,000 displaced children who remain in Crimean summer camps.

Meanwhile, Russia has said it is observing a ceasefire in line with Christmas celebrations of the Russian orthodox church.

However, Ukraine accused it of breaking the pledge almost immediately, with reports of some Russia battalions breaking ranks.

Russia's Defense Ministry said its forces were observing the truce, but said some soldiers had returned fire when attacked.

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