Live Updates: Russia’s War in Ukraine


Ilya, the middle one, found new happiness with Vladimir Bespalov and Maria Bespalaya after losing both parents in the first week of the war. (Maria Bespalaya)

When Russian forces attacked their country in late February, Vladimir Bespalov and Maria Bespalaya feared that their age-old dream of starting a family through adoption was over.

“I remember that morning on February 24 very clearly,” said Vladimir Bespalov, a 27-year-old railwayman, on the first day of the war. “We thought we were late. We realized that we were already at war and thought we could no longer adopt. “

Instead, the situation has forced the couple to try to do so sooner, he said. “We waited to earn more money, have a better car, buy a house and build something that they would give our children first. But when the war broke out, we thought why not adopt a baby now and get these things together as a family. “

On that day, a couple living in eastern Ukraine posted an appeal on social media.

“We want to adopt every boy or girl, every newborn or child,” we read.

A few weeks later, the news reached a volunteer helping people fleeing Mariupol, a southern city that has become a symbol of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ruthless campaign to seize Ukrainian land, no matter what the cost.

The inhabitants were forced underground for many weeks, while the Russian troops shelled the city with artillery. It is now a virtual wasteland where almost every building is damaged or destroyed, and an unknown number of dead people lie beneath the rubble.

Among the survivors was the orphaned and lonely 6-year-old Ilya Kostuszewicz. Both his parents died in the first week of the war.

His mother was attacked by Russian artillery after she left home to find food for her family, Bespalov and Bespalaya would later learn from the police.

Unaware of his wife’s fate, Ilya’s father went to look for her the next day, only to be killed by shelling from the Moscow army, police said.

Little Ilya told how he was left in the neighbor’s house, where he hid for weeks in a cold, dark basement with strangers.

He was so hungry he started eating his toys, said Bespalaya.

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