One more child whose parents fled Russia to join Islamic State in the Middle East and died there has been brought back to her homeland. However, hundreds more minors are believed to be stranded in war-torn Iraq and Syria.
Three-year-old Sofia Zaynukova from the southern Russian republic of Dagestan had been discovered in an Iraqi prison where wives and widows of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) fighters are held. The girl, whose parents traveled to the region to join the terrorist group years before, was looked after by a woman, who picked her up after a deadly airstrike in Mosul. The woman said the girl’s mother was buried under the rubble.
Zaynukova’s father left Dagestan in 2015, having deceived his own parents by saying he was traveling to a nearby city to get medical treatment accompanied by the girl and her mother. He ended up as an IS fighter in Iraq, just as his brother did. That man’s daughters, Sofia’s cousins, Khadija, 5, and Fatima, 3 were reunited with their grandparents earlier this year.
“I lost my two sons, but I was given my granddaughters back,” their grandfather says. Daughters of his elder son were brought back home from a Baghdad orphanage after having been spotted in an RT video about children whose parents were killed fighting for IS. The family then started looking for the third missing child, Sofia.
“We faced an almost complete lack of information both when it comes to Iraqi officials and Russian embassy officials. It was really difficult to work in such circumstances,” the Russian senator representing the Chechen Republic, Ziyad Sabsabi told RT.
Sabsabi and his team spent weeks searching for the girl, until they received a picture of her. “We knew she was alive, but had no information on her whereabouts,” he said. When the location was confirmed, he added, even more time was needed to negotiate and process the necessary paperwork required to bring Sofia back to Russia.
In the summer, RT aired a story on Russian-speaking children whose parents were killed while fighting alongside IS in the Middle East. Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov shared it on social media, triggering a campaign reunite affected children with their surviving relatives. Since then, around 100 women and children have returned from Iraq and Syria.
READ MORE: ‘First there was pain, then joy’: 2 orphans rescued in Iraq reunited with relatives in Russia
However, some 500 children who are Russian citizens could still be stuck in the troubled region, according to the Russian children’s rights ombudswoman. A special commission has been established to facilitate the search for them in Iraq and Syria, to arrange all necessary procedures to bring them back, and to provide medical and psychological assistance, Anna Kuznetsova told journalists.