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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Chris Hughes

Heroic mums rescue 227 children from basements under attack from Russian tanks

A brave band of mothers has rescued a staggering 227 Ukrainian children from basements underneath Russia ’s tanks.

The secret underground cell has carried out a series of dangerous missions to pluck the terrified kids out of the stricken capital Kyiv and drive them to safety.

Sneaking through woods full of Russian troops and clambering through bombed-out buildings, the women grabbed the children away from the ravages of war.

In one act of extraordinary bravery, a woman told us how she drove down streets as missiles rained down, petrified she would be killed but determined by her goal of saving Ukraine ’s young people.

Members of the Ukrainian female rescue group called the ‘Claw’ (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

A significant number of children rescued in the hazardous mercy missions are orphans, whose parents may have died during the invasion or in fighting in Donbas over the past eight years.

The group of women - known as the Claw - told the Mirror how they received heartbreaking selfie pictures and drawings from the kids pleading for help.

Ukrainian state law rules that the histories of those orphans under official government supervision cannot be revealed even to their rescuers.

Also among those plucked to safety are kids whose parents are either fighting, are abroad or are missing.

The Claw has rescued 116 children originally from Kharkiv in the east and 70 from Irpin, north west of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Children were rescued from Irpin and Kyiv (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

It is not known where the remaining 41 are originally from in Ukraine.

These hazardous two day journeys - often in five vehicle convoys in battered cars - started almost as soon as Moscow’s bombs started raining down on the war-battered capital.

Some “Claw” members have entered the hell of Irpin and Bucha, north west Kyiv, many times performing desperate life and death operations to rescue up to 35 children a-time.

Oksana, a key Claw member, told us: “It’s not gentle, we have no time to comfort them properly, we bundle them into the car as many as possible then drive avoiding the tanks - for two days until we are safe.”

It is believed the children from Kharkiv had moved to Kyiv during the fighting, either by train or by car.

A child hiding in a basement in the Kyiv region (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)
The ‘Claw’ group are hoping to rescue more children in the near future (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

Yesterday “Claw” ringleader, Ksenia, 50, a blonde mum of two executive from the capital, wept as she told the Daily Mirror: “We still have work to do - there are kids who need to be rescued.”

As two of her fellow “Claw” members - spelt Kihot in Ukrainian - comforted her she showed us pictures on her mobile phone of a little boy and girl sending her pictures.

Sobbing, she said: “These two little treasures still need to be rescued.

They are still there - in basements underneath Russian tanks, hiding in a basement.

“They need us. Look at them - they send me photos of themselves drawing cats. We have to get them out of that place. It is horrific and they are very frightened.”

Children drawing together after being rescued and brought to safety (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

On her phone are many selfies of frightened children pleading with her to help them, sending her cute cat drawings - because they know she is a cat-lover.

She adds: “Look at this little girl. She is texting me every morning asking me when we are coming for her.”

The last “Claw” mission picked up three children, took place two days ago and they were rescued from near Kyiv.

Their first rescue in Kyiv collected 35 children who piled into a five car convoy, which was then joined by other cars.

In conversations with her on her mobile phone kind-hearted Ksenia has calmed the still-trapped kids, cowering under the frequent boom of bombings, by telling them about her cats.

Ksenia says: “We got the name ‘The Claw” because we are clawing these kids to safety when we rescue them,” as she makes a clawing motion with her hand to show us.

Pictures drawn by children at the safe house (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

As she weeps, her two friends also sob uncontrollably, recalling the horrors of war and the thought of children still trapped in the grip of the Russian invasion is overwhelmingly dreadful.

Her friends Alyona, 40, who has a husband fighting on the frontline and Oksana, who is also 40 and is single with a daughter are key members of “the Claw.”

We met them at a secret location in the Carpathian Mountains yesterday, after negotiating for days with contacts to persuade them to tell their incredible story of death-defying rescues.

Ksenia says: “Everybody has to do their bit in this war, every Ukrainian it seems is involved and we are proud Ukrainian women knowing the kids need us.

“We can drive, we have contacts and we know the streets so why not a woman?

The men are fighting to defy Russia and so are we.

Children were rescued during Russian attacks (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

“As soon as the war started I told my friends: ‘Forget everything, forget the things we will lose in the war, the children are Ukraine’s future. They are the most important thing here. They are Ukraine’s treasure. They have to be rescued.”

This is only the second time she has wept since the war started, she says, because she simply has not had time for tears.

The first time was when she successfully guided her employee Alyona, who works for her Kyiv finance company, of which she is a director, to safety.

She says: “Alyona had been in a basement for six days with these kids, four of them, cowering and telling me on the phone: “I can hear shooting, the tanks are upstairs.

“I used my police and secret service contacts, personal friends of mine, to help me plan her escape route out of there.

“I checked every corner and every street for up to date knowledge of where the Russian tanks were and where the safe routes were. I laid out the maps in front of me.

“I told her: ‘Listen to me - I will get you out. Just do as I say and drive the route I tell you. Bring the kids with you and you will be saved. You will survive and so will they.

“She was telling me ‘but the tanks are in the way. They are blocking the road, and I promised her I would find a safe route. She was really afraid the shooting would start as soon as she left the basement.”

Asked how she copes with the weight of responsibility for her new found mission in life Ksenia adds: “My father was a military man.

“He brought me up and I can be tough. I can even drive a tank if I have to. Trust me - I really do know how to do that.

“This is my new mission, helping put as much as I can. I was a successful businesswoman in Kyiv, carrying a Versace bag and all of that.

“These days you are more likely to find me carrying a tin of beans for refugees.”

An expert investigates debris of a rocket on the place of shelling of residential building in Kyiv (SERGEY DOLZHENKO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

There are tears in Alyona’s eyes as she recalls her first rescue which began as she left the safety of a bunker on March 2.

“I don’t want to think about that journey, the noises of the war, the sights of the war. It is too terrible,” she says.

Asked if she has been back in amongst the fighting, dodging Putin’s tanks to rescue kids, she suddenly looks steely-eyed and glares back, saying defiantly: “Of course I have - we have been back there many times.”

Ksenia adds: “I was talking to Alyona on the phone, guiding her to safety as she drove, whilst trying to work out how to feed the 100 kids we had already rescued.”

It took two days driving through the warzone to get Alyona and the four children she rescued to safety at this secret place in the Carpathian Mountains.

A woman looks at damage caused by shelling in Kyiv (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Here in this quiet little community many refugee children have passed through, some of them orphans who have remained in local homes for parentless children.

Some children were rescued by “claw” members after phone calls from abroad from friends of friends pleading with them to rescue children who are staying with their grandparents in Ukraine.

Alyona says: “For the first few days after I got here to safety I was still terrified. Every scratch or little noise I heard made me think of the noises of war.

“The children I brought out were too frightened to go to sleep as they thought they might die if they slept. They would tell me ‘I don’t want to fall asleep because I am frightened I will die in the night.”

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