Uprooted: How Razom and The Kyiv Independent brought stories of abducted Ukrainian children to American cities

In an effort to bring awareness to U.S. audiences about Russian war crimes against the youngest and most vulnerable Ukrainians, Razom recently collaborated with The Kyiv Independent, a leading English-language media outlet in Ukraine. The partnership produced a series of screenings  and panel discussions of their documentary Uprooted, which investigates the illegal abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children from Mariupol by Russia. 

The film tour lasted ten days and covered five cities: New York, Washington D.C., Houston, Austin and Phoenix. During this time, Razom together with its local partners arranged 7 screenings and 4 side events that engaged approximately 500 people around the U.S. in the conversation about this unimaginable war crime. We were honored to have the Kyiv Independent team represented by its CEO Daryna Shevchenko, Head of War Crimes Investigations, Yevheniia Motorevska and War Crime reporter, Olesia Bida. 

The delegation brought with it a very special participant, Ivan Maktkovskyi, a protagonist in the documentary. Ivan was a young person trying to escape Mariupol but was intercepted and forcibly transferred by the occupying forces to Donetsk. Fortunately, Ivan managed to report his location and was returned to Ukraine. However, his peers were taken to Russia against their will. Now, Ivan considers his mission to be that of acting as the voice for those children who were abducted by Russia to help them return to Ukraine.

Screening at Phoenix, Arizona, Ivan’s testimony, photo by Oleksa Martiniouk.

Ivan’s testimony added value to every event and touched everyone who heard his story. 

Experts on the topic contributed to the conversion in each city on the tour.

Screening at Cooper Union, NYC, photo by Olena Kotyk.

In New York, we were joined by a journalist and host of the “Black Diplomat” podcast Terrell Jermaine Starr who explained the Russian invasion of Ukraine through the universal practices of oppression. During the screening at Columbia University, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, Ambassador Serhiy Kyslytsya joined the conversation moderated by Katya Soldak, a journalist at Forbes, to share his experience of working on the crime of child abduction at the U.N.

Screening at Phoenix, Arizona, photo by Katya Pavlevych.
Screening at Georgetown University in Washington DC, photo by Polina Buchak.
Screening at Landmarks E Street Cinema in Washington DC. photo by Polina Buchak.

A writer and executive editor at the Reckoning Project, Peter Pometanzev contributed to the panel in Washington, D.C. by explaining how Russia uses the abduction of children in its propaganda.

Screening at 14 pews in Houston, photo by Katya Pavlevych.

A historian and researcher of former Soviet countries, Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon shared her expertise on the history of Russian colonialism in Ukraine, at an intimate discussion in Houston.

Screening at University of Texas at Austin, photo by Lauren Guillaume.

Nathan Mark Hutson from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Steven Seegel from the Center for East European, and Eurasian Studies joined the panel at The University of Texas at Austin.

Screening at Arizona State University, Phoenix, photo by Oleksa Martiniouk.

In Phoenix we were honored to have State Congressman David Cook sharing his experience of visiting Ukraine, and a local activist, Orest Jejna. 

Representatives of the Embassy of Ukraine to the United States were able to join the screenings in Washington, D.C., and Houston.

Meeting with the State Department in Washington DC, photo by Katya Pavlevych.

During the tour, the delegation had a chance to meet with the Office of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal in Washington, D.C., representatives from the State Department, Senator John Cornyn’s Regional Office in Austin, and have a personal meeting with Congresswoman Debbie Lesko in Phoenix.

Meeting with Senator Cornyn Regional Office in Austin, photo by Lauren Guillaume.
Meeting with Congresswoman Jayapal in Washington DC, photo by Katya Pavlevych.

During the meetings, the delegation briefed officials on the issue of the abduction of Ukrainian children by Russia and the appropriate legislative and policy actions that the U.S. can take to help Ukraine. 

Meeting with Congresswoman Lesko in Phoenix, photo by Oleksa Martiniouk.

In addition to the screening, the delegation participated in side events including a closed networking opportunity for journalists and an open house at the Ukrainian Institute of America.

Round table with journalists at the Ukrainian Institute of America, New York, photo by Ihor Martiniouk.

We held meetings with prominent think tanks in Washington, D.C., like the Wilson Center, CEPA and USIP.  In Phoenix, a panel discussion was held at the German-speaking community center, Treffpunkt. Side events allowed the participants to expand their conversation with the public and exchange experiences with their colleagues.

Panel discussion at Treffpunkt, Phoenix, photo by Oleksa Martiniouk.
Meeting with the Wilson Center and CEPA in Washington DC, photo by Katya Pavlevych.

The tour attracted the attention of the local media and resulted in multiple interviews by KXAN, Northeast Valley News, Arizona Central and others. 

Ivan Matkovskyi and Ryan Chandler during the interview for KXAN in Austin, photo by Katya Pavlevych.

A special treat during the tour was Ivan’s meeting with Gilbert Tuhabonye — a survivor of the genocide during the Burundian Civil War, a long-distance runner, and author of This Voice in My Heart: A Runner’s Memoir of Genocide, Faith, and Forgiveness.

Gilbert Tuhabonye and Ivan Matkovskyi in Austin., photo by Lauren Guillaume.

A quick conversation between the two grew into a joint run the next morning in Austin, and inspired Ivan to journal about his experience of abduction. 

The tour increased awareness about the crime of abduction of Ukrainian children by Russia and exposed Russian atrocities in occupied territories as yet another reason to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom. 

This tour would not have been possible without the dedicated Razom team behind it and Razom’s wonderful partners. We would like to thank the following people and organizations for contributing to the organization of the tour:

  • The Cooper Union
  • Ukrainian Institute of America
  • Human Rights Foundation
  • Georgetown University Ukrainian Society
  • Columbia University Ukrainian Club
  • UT Austin School of Journalism and Media, The LBJ School of Public Affairs, The Alexander Hamilton Society, The Strauss Center for International Security and Law, UT Austin Center for East European and Eurasian Studies
  • 14 pews in Houston
  • Cactus & Tryzub
  • Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations
  • Treffpunkt 
  • UNWLA 
  • Houston for Ukraine (HTX4Ukraine)

Special thanks to the Office of Congressman Mike Quigley, Democrat of Illinois.

Feel free to organize screenings of Uprooted in your community. Watch the documentary on Kyiv Independent’s YouTube.

Together, we can demand accountability for stolen childhoods!

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