15-year-old Nikita from Kherson has always been a gifted football player. Coming from an athletic family, the boy regularly attended national and international tournaments. With the help of local collaborators, the occupiers learned about Nikita’s aspirations. When in early October 2022 Nikita’s mother Inna was told that Nikita’s class would go to a 'training camp' for a few weeks, she genuinely hoped it would allow the boy to rest and train for a bit. Thus, on October 7th, Nikita and his 30 classmates were sent to the occupied village of Zaozerne, Crimea. Inna recalled seeing 12 'evacuation buses' taking numerous children to Crimea.
Unsurprisingly, the children could not return home within 2 weeks, as previously promised. Inna was growing more and more anxious; she approached Nikita’s football coach who only presumed that the kids would come back in spring. Inna went to occupied Crimea alone, yet the camp authorities did not release her son. It was clear that the Russians never planned to return the children they 'evacuated' in the first place.
Inna returned to Kherson on her own, feeling lost. She began to search for opportunities to retrieve Nikita. Eventually, she came across Save Ukraine. Inna joined one of our most recent rescue missions; the group left Kyiv on January 22. On January 28, Inna and Nikita were finally able to leave the camp together. The journey home was as exhausting as it could get: the Russians refused the entire group to cross the border twice. The border officers did not allow Ukrainian citizens - women and children - to leave their territory. The group was only able to leave through the Latvian border, having covered an additional 800 kilometers.
Despite all, the family is now home. Inna and Nikita are now in Mykolaiv. Nikita’s case has been filed and will later be transferred to the Hague as one of the many pieces of evidence of Russia’s war crimes. The boy is attending a football school in Mykolaiv where he is promptly regaining his athletic shape. Save Ukraine hopes that the traumatic events Nikita had to experience will not be an obstacle to his football career.