Long stories short
- At least 41 migrants died when their boat capsized off Lampedusa.
- Fernando Villavicencio, a presidential candidate fighting corruption in Ecuador, was shot dead at a campaign event.
- Japanese officials said they would have to restrict soaring hiker numbers on Mt Fuji.
To Russia by force
Last month a close ally of Putin said hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children have been moved to Russia and are being held in “camps” from occupied Crimea to the Far East. Many have been adopted by Russian families. State propaganda calls it a “rescue mission”, but Ukraine has no access to them.
So what? Even if the Russian numbers are exaggerated it’s now clear this is the largest deportation of its kind since the Second World War. Human rights experts say it’s also…
- a war crime;
- an attack on Ukraine’s national identity; and
- part of a campaign of “Russification” with echoes of Nazism and many of the hallmarks of genocide.
By the numbers:
- 700,000 – Ukrainian children who have “arrived” in the Russian Federation since February 2022, according to Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s children’s ombudsman (this number cannot be independently verified).
- 19,505 – deportation cases confirmed by Ukraine (the real number may be much higher).
- at least 6,000 – children aged four months to 17 placed in “re-education camps”, including at least 43 “summer camps” and 88 orphanages.
Who. Last year, Putin signed two laws simplifying the acquisition of Russian citizenship by Ukrainian children and their adoption by Russian parents. In January, he mentioned demographic problems in Russia, naming specific regions.
Where. Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL) see signs of demographic engineering in the deportations, notably in the movement of children to depressed areas of Siberia and Magadan in the Far East, a key node of the old gulag camp system.
How. Russia’s public rationales for abducting Ukrainian children include “re-education” (as above), but also
- moving them as “evacuees” from Ukrainian state institutions in occupied regions of Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and Mariupol; and
- picking them up as “battlefield kids” in the course of Russia’s combat operations.
Others have been separated from their parents in so-called filtration camps such as those set up in eastern Ukraine to identify members of the Azov battalion after the defence of Mariupol.
Why. In fact Russia’s use of the abducted children forms part of a larger strategy of Russification of occupied Ukrainian territories and selling the war at home. They are being used in a public relations campaign in Russian media, rebranding the invasion as a “rescue mission” to save these children from “Nazis”, and as leverage in negotiations about the end of the war and the relief of sanctions on Russia, particularly in relation to grain and fertiliser imports and exports.
This is illegal. The “rescue mission” narrative rests on claims that the children need to be evacuated, treated or found new families. But the reality under international law is that
- having lost their parents or been injured in a war Russia started, they cannot now be hosted by Russia because it is a belligerent country; and
- “Children are not bargaining chips,” as the HRL’s executive director, Nathaniel Raymond, notes. “They cannot be used like PoWs.”
According to the law of armed conflict, children caught up in wars should be
- transferred to a third-party country;
- able to call home freely and talk to their national government and parents;
- visited by international monitors (ICRC, Unicef etc.)
Echoes of Nazism. There is no evidence any of these requirements are being met. Instead, the children are being put through cultural, linguistic and patriotic “re-education”, including military training, and if their parents are not found within 10 days, they can be adopted. “This activity by Russia most closely resembles the actions by the Third Reich in World War Two, namely the transfer of Polish children to German families for “Germanification”, Raymond says.
Signs of genocide. The forced transfer of children, combined with filtration and re-education may be regarded as evidence of genocide by the International Criminal Court, which has charged Lvova-Belova as well as Putin with war crimes.
Long way home. Ukraine has been unable to establish a return mechanism for the children because it has no viable communication channels with Russia. Meanwhile, many have been given Russian passports and are being indoctrinated with Russian propaganda, says Onysia Syniuk, a legal analyst at Ukraine’s Zmina Human Rights Information centre. “In a year or two, they will be brought up as Russian children. They will not have a Ukrainian identity anymore. So this is very much a problem with a deadline.”
Every day in Russia counts. The longer the children stay there, the harder it will be to get them back.
Further listening: The 31: Ukraine’s stolen children.
Photograph Getty Images
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