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The race to save abducted Ukrainian teen, a pawn of Russian propaganda

Scripps News' Jason Bellini gives an update to the story of a Ukrainian orphan, Denis, whom we've been tracking for more than a year.
The race to save abducted Ukrainian teen, a pawn of Russian propaganda
Posted at 4:25 PM, Jun 01, 2023

Every now and then, a reporter come across an individual who leaves a lasting impression, even in the briefest of encounters. 

For more than a year, Scripps News' Jason Bellini has been regularly and frequently asking about Denis. We were introduced to him, virtually, while he and around 40 other children were hunkered down in their orphanage in Kherson, Ukraine. Their city was under Russian occupation. Denis, who was then 16 years old, came across as exceptionally bright, mature and patriotic. He was also clearly adored by the younger orphans, who hung all over him during our video chat.

The orphanage's director kept us updated but asked us — for Denis's protection — to not report some harrowing developments: The Russians, last summer, had taken Denis away.

Now, after receiving assurances that it would not be harmful for us to report Denis's story, we're free to show video of him that Ukrainians would consider evidence of Russian war crimes

The boy, who turns 18 in July, said on state-controlled Russian TV that he now sides with Ukraine's enemy and hopes to join their army.

Had Denis been brainwashed? Was he being forced or coerced to betray his country? Save Ukraine, an organization that has been rescuing children in Denis's situation, certainly thinks so. 

Our story documents what we now know and can now share about a young person who is still very much on our minds.

SEE MORE: Ukrainian children rescued from Russia fear for friends left behind

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