A week after Russia invaded, the family of 15-year-old Arina Yatsiuk decided to flee their home near the Ukrainian capital by car. Less than 10 miles down the road, they encountered a group of Russian troops.
The soldiers started shooting, then dragged Arina and her 9-year-old sister Valeria out of the back seat. Arina was wounded and put into one car; Valeria was ushered into another.
Valeria was taken to a nearby village, where locals found her standing by the road. Denys and Anna, the girls’ parents, were discovered shot dead in their car.
But March 3, 2022, was the last time anyone saw Arina. She’s one of 345 Ukrainian children who have disappeared since Russia launched its full-scale war on Ukraine last February, according to official Ukrainian statistics.
The Ukrainian government says many of the missing children have been forcibly taken to Russia. The Russian government doesn’t deny taking Ukrainian children — in fact, it says it’s “saving” them.
Arina’s aunt, Oksana Yatsiuk, told CNN the family has been searching for the girl with deep brown eyes and braces ever since she disappeared. Arina is good at drawing and loves make-up and traveling, her aunt said.
“She had big dreams, but the ‘Russian liberators’ decided everything for her. When we find her, we will carry on with her plans,” she said.
The family said they believe the girl, who is now 16, is still alive and “held captive” in Russia.
“I sent official letters to all of the medical facilities, to the Ministry of Health in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine and the official answer I received is that she has not been registered anywhere,” Yatsiuk told CNN in a phone interview.