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Russia’s mass abduction of Ukrainian children may qualify as genocide

[Atlantic Council]

South African officials confirmed on July 19 that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend next month’s BRICS summit in Johannesburg amid fears that he may face arrest in connection with a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court over his alleged role in the mass abduction of Ukrainian children. Putin’s decision to stay away from the summit is a very public humiliation for the Russian dictator that highlights the challenges created by the ICC war crimes charges against him.

These problems are likely to escalate further as the fate of abducted Ukrainian children continues to attract international attention. Indeed, some have argued that the abductions qualify as genocide.

Russia appears to recognize the scale of the damage being done to the country’s international standing by the scandal surrounding the mass abduction of Ukrainian children, and has responded by attempting to portray these deportations as humanitarian measures designed to protect Ukrainian children caught up in the war zone. During a June visit to St. Petersburg by a delegation of African leaders, Putin claimed that Ukrainian children had been transferred to Russia legally in order “to save their lives and health.”

Russian efforts to justify the deportations on humanitarian grounds are undermined by widespread evidence of indoctrination programs designed to pressure children into abandoning their Ukrainian identity and adopting Russian nationality. If Ukrainian children are being taken to Russia purely for their own safety, why is it necessary to brainwash them with Kremlin propaganda and turn them into Russian citizens?

The available evidence indicates that Russian efforts to indoctrinate abducted Ukrainian children are both systematic and extensive. A February 2023 report published by the Yale School of Public Health identified a large-scale Russian initiative to re-educate thousands of abducted Ukrainian children via a network of more than 40 camps and facilities stretching from Russian-occupied Crimea to Siberia. “This is not one rogue camp, this is not one rogue mayor or governor,” said Yale Humanitarian Research Lab executive director Nathaniel Raymond. “This is a massive logistical undertaking that does not happen by accident.”

In mid-July 2023, the UK imposed sanctions on a number of Russians tied to the abduction of Ukrainian children. British officials said the deportations were designed to “erase Ukrainian cultural and national identity” via the relocation of Ukrainian children to a network of re-education camps. “In his chilling program of forced child deportation, and the hate-filled propaganda spewed by his lackeys, we see Putin’s true intention: to wipe Ukraine from the map,” commented British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.

It is not known how many children are involved in Russia’s abduction program. Ukrainian officials say they have identified almost 20,000 victims, but some fear the true total number may be far higher. Efforts to rescue Ukrainian children taken to Russia are now gaining momentum, but so far only a few hundred have been returned to Ukraine. Many have provided first-hand accounts of indoctrination efforts including daily recitals of the Russian national anthem and punishments for expressions of Ukrainian patriotism.


(c) 2023, Atlantic Council



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