Hundreds of thousands of children may have been transferred to Russia since 2015 after Moscow annexed Crimea, international experts probing the “massive” assimilation of Ukrainian minors said Thursday.

A mission of three experts, established under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said it found that “numerous and overlapping violations of the rights of the children deported to the Russian Federation have taken place”.

“It seems there is a plan to assimilate them (children) on a massive scale,” one of the experts, Veronika Bilkova, told reporters.

She said the exact numbers of children brought from Ukraine to Russia remained uncertain, with findings showing such transfers since 2015.

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“The lowest estimates that we have been able to find put this number at at least 20,000 children... But both Russian sources and Ukrainian sources indicate numbers which are 10 or even more times higher. So we are really speaking about a massive phenomenon,” Bilkova said.

Russia has taken “legal and policy measures... to grant Russian citizenship to some of these children and to facilitate their placement in foster families,” the experts found in their 82-page report.

They also detailed that once in Russia, children “are exposed to pro-Russian information campaign often amounting to targeted re-education as well as being involved in military education.”

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The report on the “forcible transfer of children” is the latest carried out under the OSCE’s so-called Moscow Mechanism, which allows for an ad hoc team of experts to be established to assist in resolving an OSCE member state’s problems.

To do the report, which was finalised by April 23, 2023, the experts collected written material, conducted more than 25 online or in-person interviews and visited Kyiv from April 14-20.

Russia did not answer an invitation to contribute to the report, according to the experts.

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More than 19,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the February 2022 invasion, according to Kyiv, with many allegedly placed in institutions and foster homes.

Russia denies the allegations, saying instead it has saved Ukrainian children from the horrors of the war.

In March, the International Criminal Court in The Hague announced an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war crime accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.

The OSCE began in the early 1970s as a forum for dialogue between East and West.

The Vienna-based body has 57 member states on three continents -- including Russia, Ukraine and the United States.

Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), on Thursday called for an immediate halt to “the abduction, kidnapping, stealing” of children, calling it “horrific”.

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