Russia holding Ukrainian children in camp network: Study

Yale study backed by State Department finds at least 6,000 Ukrainian children sent to reeducation facilities in Crimea and beyond.

A Russian soldier stands guard in front of a tank with a Z on its front in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Ukraine has accused Russia of forcibly deporting children from Ukrainian cities such as Mariupol, which was under siege for weeks [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Russia has held at least 6,000 Ukrainian children — and probably many more — in Russian-occupied Crimea and Russia itself in actions that might constitute a war crime, according to a new study backed by the United States.

Researchers from the Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab said they had identified at least 43 camps and other facilities where Ukrainian children as young as four months old were held and whose “primary purpose” appeared to be political reeducation.

“Multiple camps endorsed by the Russian Federation are advertised as “integration programs”, with the apparent goal of integrating children from Ukraine into the Russian government’s vision of national culture, history, and society,” the report said.

Nathaniel Raymond, a Yale researcher, said the policy put Moscow in “clear violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians during war and called the report a “gigantic Amber alert” — referring to US public notices of child abductions.

The Russian activity since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine “in some cases may constitute a war crime and a crime against humanity,” he told reporters.

The children included those with parents or obvious family guardians, those Russia deemed orphans, others who were in the care of Ukrainian state institutions before the invasion, and those whose custody was unclear or uncertain due to the war, the report said.

Some of the children were adopted by Russian families or moved into foster care in Russia, the report said.

Russia’s embassy in Washington, DC, responding to the reports, said Russia accepts children who were forced to flee Ukraine.

“We do our best to keep underage people in families, and in cases of absence or death of parents and relatives — to transfer orphans under guardianship,” the embassy said on the Telegram messaging platform.

Ukraine’s government recently said more than 14,700 children have been deported to Russia, with more than 1,000 of them from the port city of Mariupol, which was besieged for weeks and all but destroyed.

Prosecutors have said they are examining allegations of forced deportation of children as part of efforts to build a genocide indictment against Russia.

“This network stretches from one end of Russia to the other,” Raymond said.

The system of camps and the adoption by Russian families of Ukrainian children taken from their homeland “appears to be authorized and coordinated at the highest levels of Russia’s government,” the report said, beginning with President Vladimir Putin and including Maria Lvova-Belova, the presidential commissioner for children’s rights.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price suggested that action could be taken against 12 individuals the report said are not yet subject to US sanctions.

“We are always looking at individuals who may be responsible for war crimes, for atrocities inside of Ukraine,” he said.

“Just because we have not sanctioned an individual to date says nothing about any future action that we may take.”

The report said the children had also been given training in firearms, although Raymond said there was no evidence they were being sent back to fight.

The Yale study was based on satellite imagery and publicly available accounts. The Humanitarian Research Lab is working as part of a State Department-backed project that has examined human rights violations and war crimes allegedly committed by Russia.

Source: News Agencies