When the war began in February last year, the staff at Kherson’s Children’s Home came up with a plan.

They spirited all the children, mostly under 5, to the Holhofa church on the other side of town, orphanage worker Olena recounted.

The church and caregivers from the home kept the children safe and warm in the basement. They hid them to keep them safe from the fighting and to escape the Russians, said Olena.

Kherson fell to the Russian forces in the early days of the war. The invading troops moved swiftly over the Dnipro River; it was the first major city to be taken and the only regional capital.

“Yes, the children were here,” Victor, the 74-year-old caretaker of the church, told CNN. “But after the Russians occupied this city, they started asking questions.”

After a few weeks, he said, agents from Russia’s security service, the FSB, came to the church and demanded that the caregivers transport the children back to the orphanage.

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