The Kremlin marked the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by trotting out children from the devastated city of Mariupol during a Moscow propaganda concert so the kids could “thank” their invaders.
Anna Naumenko, a black haired 15-year-old girl, was sent onstage with her sister, Karolina, at the Feb. 22 event to thank a Russian soldier named Yuri Gagarin for “saving” them from the shattered city on the Sea of Azov, according to The Guardian.
“Thank you Uncle Yura for saving me, my sister and hundreds of thousands of children in Mariupol,” Anna told the soldier, whom The Kyiv Independent reported as having allegedly “saved” 367 children from the town.
But it was also the Russians who left the children motherless – their mom, a blogger named Olga, was killed by shrapnel from an April 2022 explosion while she ran out for cigarettes, The Guardian reported. She was buried near a hospital.
The family had reportedly been hiding from the Russian shells in a Mariupol cultural center, then in an administrative building, the Independent said.
An estimated 200,000 people were brought to Moscow for the anniversary events, according to The Guardian. And in Luzhniki Stadium – which hosted the World Cup just four years ago – Russia’s military pageantry was on full display, with national and army flags draped everywhere.
But the cost of the war has been ghastly. The UN said the invasion has left at least 8,006 civilians dead and 13,287 injured. But that’s likely “only the tip of the iceberg” and the real human toll would be “unbearable.”
And that’s not counting the estimated 280,000 combined military casualties suffered by the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces, according to Norwegian Chief of Defense Eirik Kristoffersen.
Former neighbors from Mariupol were shocked and disgusted at the twisted display of Russian patriotism, which featured a group of Ukrainian kids hugging the soldier.
The same kids who were now thanking the invaders had huddled with their neighbors in basements months earlier in a desperate bid to evade Russian bombs, The Guardian said.
“The abomination is that these are not actors,” one person said. “They are really children from Mariupol.”
He pointed out one child, a boy named Kostya, and said they’d spent the first month of the war living in the same shelter. The former resident reportedly stepped over dead bodies with Kostya’s father when they searched a bread factory for food and brought water back from a pump.
Another Mariupol resident, Daria Shrycheva, corroborated the claims. She had also sheltered in the administrative building’s basement, which was filled with about 40 people and suffered from a shortage of water and food, The Guardian said.
Bombs killed or wounded eight neighbors across the street, she said. And food was so rare that she and three others were forced to share a single chocolate bar – it was the only thing they ate in days, the outlet said.
“Kostya’s mom and dad were good people,” said Shrycheva, who finally fled the city in late March. “We shared food with them, so did they. Kostya is a very kind and good boy.”
She was surprised to see him in the concert, but said Kostya’s family were likely “adapters,” or people who try to secure their future no matter the cost.
“Maybe then it was convenient for them to support Ukraine, and now it is convenient for them to support Russia,” she said, adding that Kostya’s mother, Kristina, now works in the administration of the occupied city.
Neither Kostya’s father, Igor, nor his mother, Kristina, replied to requests for comment, The Guardian said.
Anna Naumenko sheltered in the same building as Kostya’s family, according to Informator, a Ukrainian news website.
The anniversary events were heavy on propaganda, with Russian President Vladimir Putin giving an unhinged speech in which he chided the West, vowed to carry on his so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine and suspended the country’s participation in a nuclear treaty that limits its nuclear stockpile.
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