The unreported orphanage siege

The school siege in North Ossetia naturally attracts the sympathy of anyone who, like me, saw off their kids to the start of a new year yesterday morning. Nothing is more awful than pulling children into a conflict for which they cannot be responsible and of which they know nothing. Obviously the local resonance for me is the affair of the Holy Cross school in North Belfast from a few years back – deeply unpleasant for the kids and parents concerned, though obviously not as bad as what’s happening in North Ossetia now.

But I’ve been following a similar, if less dramatic, incident over the last few weeks which seems to have had zero coverage in the Western press. On 26 July, the security forces in the separatist region of Transdniestria seized control of an orphanage in the town of Bendery (also called Tighina), while the orphans were out on a trip, because the staff teach the children using the Latin alphabet rather than the Cyrillic alphabet (this is, believe it or not, one of the main issues in the little-known Transdniestrian conflict). They also closed down three schools in Transdniestria at the same time. The orphans, whose ages range from 8 to 15, managed to sneak past the militia the next day and broke into their own home. Since then they have been surviving on food and water supplies brought in by international officials from the OSCE (two of whom have worked for me in the past) and UNICEF.

This isn’t an action by unaccountable and anonymous terrorists from forgotten parts of the Caucasus, it’s harassment of children – who have already lost their parents – by a Russian-backed government that claims to want recognition as an independent state. Last week the EU and US imposed visa bans on the Transdniestrian officials who are believed to be responsible, but since none of them was likely to be travelling to the West any time soon anyway, I don’t see it having much effect. I find it utterly extraordinary that no Western journalist has given this affair any column inches at all in the last five weeks. See news coverage (from a Moldovan newsagency) here.

Added later: Also IWPR article about it here.

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