Previously, Ukrainian officials have expressed concern about this practice, but the scope was unclear. Daria Herasymchuk, Ukraine’s top children’s rights official, estimated that nearly 11,000 Ukrainian children had been taken by Russia without their parents. The Post reported in December that Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree easing procedures for adoption of Ukrainian children and that the policy is being “vigorously pursued” by Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, who advocates stripping children of their Ukrainian identities. She has been sanctioned by the United States.
Now, the Humanitarian Research Lab of Yale University’s School of Public Health, part of the Conflict Observatory supported by the State Department to document war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine, reports that Russia has transferred from Ukraine at least 6,000 children, ages four months to 17 years old, and the total “is likely significantly higher.” The report shows that at least 43 facilities hold these children; all but two of them were preexisting summer camps in Russian-occupied Crimea and in Russia. Twelve camps are clustered around the Black Sea; seven in Crimea; and 10 around Moscow, Kazan and Yekaterinburg. Eleven of the camps are more than 500 miles from Ukraine’s border with Russia. The “primary purpose” of this archipelago of camps “appears to be political reeducation,” the group concluded. Thirty-two of them “appear engaged in systematic reeducation efforts that expose children from Ukraine to Russian-centric academic, cultural, patriotic, and/or military education.”
The report found that many children with known family guardianship were taken to camps with the consent of their parents, who thought the kids would get a free vacation, or at least be removed from the war zone, and they were returned as planned. But there were also cases in which children were held for months or weeks longer than planned, and two camps from which returns were suspended indefinitely. The researchers also found that children who were orphans or who had lived in Ukrainian state institutions, often because of severe physical or mental disabilities, were deported to Russia for adoption or placement in foster care.
Russia’s conduct appears to violate international law. The forcible transfer of children from one group to another is prohibited in the 1948 genocide convention, and some international-law experts argue that it also prohibits acts that destroy a protected group’s culture, language and religion, including that of children. Abduction of children is one of the “six grave violations” against children during armed conflict, as laid out by the United Nations. And Russia appears to have violated the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it signed in 1990.
Ultimately, international courts or tribunals will have to render judgment. But Ukraine’s allies, the United States and Europe, could take action now against officials in Russia carrying out the transfers. The report says at least 12 of them are not on U.S. and/or international sanctions lists. They should be, soon.
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