As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches the 16-month mark, several international organizations are investigating Russian war atrocities. This includes the impact of Russia’s full-scale invasion on the lives of Ukrainian children. 

In April, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) met to discuss the forcible kidnapping and transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia. During this session, PACE representatives stated that there was “evidence that deported [Ukrainian] children had faced a process of ‘russification’ through re-education.” The forcible transfer of Ukrainian children was “planned and organized in a systemic way” by Russia.

These conclusions were derived in part from a report published by the Conflict Observatory, a US Department of State-funded project of the Yale University School of Public Health. The report assessed Russia’s systemic program for the separation of Ukrainian children from their parents. 

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It also examined the forcible deportations of Ukrainian children to Russia, the re-education process, and the subsequent adoption of Ukrainian children by Russian parents. The report deemed these processes to be in violation of international law.

At the time of publication in February 2023, the report estimated that Russia had forcibly abducted at least 6,000 Ukrainian children between the ages of four months and 17 years. In Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, 43 identified “camps” had been established to put the Ukrainian children through Russian patriotism programs. These programs sought to integrate “children from Ukraine into the Russian government’s vision of national culture, history, and society.”

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His appeal to Western partners to provide at least seven more air defense systems came after Russia launched a wave of fatal drone and missile attacks across the country on April 19.

Patriotism programs include the mandatory speaking of Russian, forced recitation of disparaging statements about Ukraine and Ukrainians, requirements to sing the Russian national anthem, and praise of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. 

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The Russian government developed a national program to offer Ukrainian children for adoption by Russian parents, even if the children were known not to be orphans.

Finally, the report found that the policy of abduction, forced relocation, and re-education of Ukrainian children is being orchestrated on all levels of the Russian government.

After examining the report findings, PACE “welcomed the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue arrest warrants for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Children Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova on war crimes.” PACE will continue to monitor the situation in Ukraine.

This most recent pattern of child abduction is not the first time Moscow has implemented a child separation and re-education policy. During the 1940s, Joseph Stalin implemented a policy of mandatory re-settlement of non-Russian peoples. 

Military or police forces would forcibly enter the regions of ethnic groups, remove people from their homes, and forcibly relocate them. Residents in the Caucasus and Crimea were deported to Central Asia. Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians were sent to Siberia. 

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This strategy was enacted to make Russia dominant, to prevent the development of dissident movements among non-Russian ethnic groups, and to be used as a tool of Russian control. Standard practice included separating children from their parents, forcing them to be educated and live in a Russian-only environment that glorified Russian history and culture.

There are alarming parallels between the brutal policies implemented by Russia during the Soviet period and what Russia is doing in Ukraine today. While numerous international organizations and human rights groups are investigating the abduction of Ukrainian children, information has been difficult to obtain from Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine. For example, in late April, the Ukrainian government estimated that more than 19,000 children had been forcibly deported to Russia during the full-scale war. 

According to Mykola Kuleba of the non-governmental organization Save Ukraine, the number of children forcibly abducted during the past nine years, since Russia’s original occupation of Ukraine’s Donbas region and Crimea in 2014, could reach 300,000. Annetta Hewko of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations concurs. 

“The publication of the Yale report and subsequent discussions at the United Nations and other international bodies has brought into sharp focus this issue of recent child abductions,” Hewko said. “However, in reality, Russia has been stealing Ukraine’s children for years.”

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Like PACE, the United Nations has been investigating Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children. On February 24, Daria Herasymchuk, Advisor to Ukraine’s President and Commissioner for Children’s Rights and Child Rehabilitation, participated in a high-profile UN event on Russia’s violation of human rights in Ukraine.

In her speech, Herasymchuk called on all actors in the international community to join the rescue of Ukrainian children abducted by and taken to Russia, reminding those present that such actions are “one of the components of the crime of genocide against the Ukrainian people.”

Then, on April 30, the United Nations Security Council held an Arria-formula meeting on the “abduction and deportation of children during armed conflict.” In rejection of the UN norm for Arria-formula meetings, the session was not broadcasted on UNTV. Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, objected to the webcast on this topic. The Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations, however, streamed the session on YouTube. 

Few member nations openly supported Russia’s unsubstantiated claim that the “rescue of abandoned and orphaned children” was a humanitarian act. Instead, more than two dozen UN member nations condemned Russia’s continuing forcible abduction of children from Ukraine.

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“The forced transfer and deportation of children may constitute an abuse of human rights and a violation of international humanitarian law,” remarked Ambassador Robert Wood, an Alternate Representative of the United States for Special Political Affairs at the United Nations.

“The impact of these actions is devastating and long-lasting. It deprives children of their childhood, education, and healthy social development.”

“The International Criminal Court’s decision to issue warrants for President Putin and the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights is an important step towards justice for Ukraine and its people,” added Ambassador Mitch Fifield, of the Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations. “Australia unequivocally condemns Russia’s forced deportation of Ukrainian children,” he added. 

Both in 2014 and during the past year, the UN has held dozens of sessions, meetings, and breakout groups about Russia’s war against Ukraine, and the UN General Assembly has voted on numerous resolutions condemning Russia’s aggression. In April 2022, Russia was suspended from the UN Human Rights Council.

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The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is also investigating Russian atrocities being committed in Ukraine. On May 4, the OSCE published a report on Russian war crimes including the “forcible transfer and/or deportation of Ukrainian children to the Russian Federation.” In keeping with the PACE and UN sessions, the OSCE called for Russia to immediately return children to Ukraine.

The recent sessions held by PACE, the UN, and OSCE draw attention to the irrefutable evidence of crimes committed by Russia against Ukrainian children. The ICC’s March 17 decision to issue arrest warrants for President Putin and Commissioner Lvova-Belova is an important start, but more must be done.

International pressure must be brought to bear on Russia to return hundreds of thousands of abducted children to Ukraine. Russia must be thoroughly punished for these crimes against humanity.

 

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He can be found on Twitter @MTemnycky

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Comments (4)

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Joseph Swanson
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Same old communist russia with the same old communist tactics of.."Abduction, Deportation, and russification."

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Susan Davis
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I would hope that all parents and other blood family members of abducted Ukrainian children have contributed to a DNA bank so when there is an opportunity to rescue the children they can be easily identified.

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I support
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The world has a long sad history of occupiers trying to erase Indigenous culture. Indigenous peoples all over the world have and are facing this. We in North America have our history of this no one is screaming about the Lakota Annishnoba or hundreds of other cultures across this continent. I support the Ukraine cause. But we need to clean up the mess we made here as well.

I support
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@I support, Slava Ukraine

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Noneya
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It sickens me that the Russian President is forcing children to speak against their country and taking children from their homelands. The invasion of Ukraine should have had support from Europe and America since Crimea was illegally annexed. The world of freedom loving countries should have done more then and they're not doing enough now! The threat of Nuclear War has them quaking instead they allow Ukraine to be their proxy against Putin. He is decimating Ukraines terroties and cities making children orphans. I wonder is the forced removal of children is to prevent the world from seeing the children's bodies blown up by Russian aggression and because the communist world would be lso then be against Putin? I wish the end of Putins dictatorial regime and someone having the courage to stand up and take the reins from the runaway stallion and bind him with those reins. Russian people would finally be able to have work, freedom to vote for who they truly wish to be President and dignity to have free speech without fear! Who has the courage to run the vast land called Russia and return Ukraines children in the process?

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