Why is Russia abducting Ukrainian children and how did some of them return to Ukrainian territory? The Ukrainian President's Commissioner for Children's Rights, Daria Herasymtschuk, in an interview with DW.
Children were also brought to Russia from the Russian-occupied city of Izyum (archive photo from April 20, 2022)
Since the start of the large-scale invasion, the Russian military has brought thousands of children from Ukraine to Russia. DW spoke to Daria Herasymchuk, the Ukrainian President's Commissioner for Children's Rights, about those responsible for the kidnapping of Ukrainian children, the scenarios that Russia is working on and how children can return to Kiev-controlled territory in Ukraine.
DW: Ms Herasymchuk, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has issued arrest warrants against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lwova-Belowa on suspicion of kidnapping Ukrainian children to Russia. Are these two the only ones responsible?
Daria Herasymtschuk: Many people are involved with it. In particular, representatives of local authorities in different regions of Russia who accept such children. All video evidence left by representatives of the Russian authorities is documented by Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office and handed over to investigators at the International Criminal Court. Therefore, I think that the list of suspects will grow even longer.
Daria Herasymchuk is kissing Ukrainian children search in Russia
The arrest warrant for Putin and Beova is a historic event and the first step in recognizing the genocide of the Ukrainian people by kidnapping children. According to the provisions of Article 2 of the 1948 Convention for the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and Article 442 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, the forced movement of children from one group to another with the aim of creating a national , ethnic or racial group, part of the crime of genocide.
What do you think? Is Russia kidnapping Ukrainian children to turn them into Russians?
Yes, the Russians want to improve their people with Ukrainian children. Their whole approach indicates that they have no intention of returning the children. Russia has accelerated adoption and naturalization procedures and offers free education for children from Ukraine. What's more, the Russians select children by conducting so-called medical examinations, which divide the children into different categories. That is, they select the healthiest to supplement their people with Ukrainian children.
Do you think this is an action planned by Russia or is it more of a response to the situation?
From the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia had a clear plan about what to do with Ukrainian children. Implementation began in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. The Russians changed the citizenship of children and established the so-called “Train of Hope” that allowed citizens of the Russian Federation to travel to Crimea to illegally adopt children.
Currently in Russia there are at least five scenarios according to which children are kidnapped. We came to this conclusion after analyzing the ways of 308 children who managed to return to their parents in the Kiev-controlled territory of Ukraine.
What are these child abduction scenarios?
In the first scenario, the Russians use so-called filtration measures to separate children from their families. The parents are arrested for no reason and the children are simply taken away. There was one case in which a father of three children was arrested and was only released after three months. At that time the children were already in Russia, but we managed to reunite the family.
In the second scenario, the Russians kill the parents and then take the children away.
< p>In the third scenario, the children are taken directly from the birth family. Sometimes this is done by removing parental rights. Often this is used for “uncomfortable parents” who do not want to cooperate with the occupation authorities.
The fourth scenario is when the Russians do not allow us to remove children from institutional care facilities that have come under Russian occupation. Russia has never been willing to grant humanitarian corridors to get these children out. Instead, they are kidnapped. Since the full-scale invasion began, children have been abducted from four facilities, and we have been able to retrieve those from two.
Ukrainian children know what war means
The fifth and last scenario is the most common: First the Russians create poor living conditions for children in the occupied territories. Then the parents are offered to send their child to an alleged rehabilitation in convalescent camps in the Russian Federation. However, the children do not return from these camps and are taken away without their parents' consent. Some of the children we were able to bring back have been in such camps for over a year.
How can the children be brought back?
Finding and retrieving a child requires knowing who to look for. Therefore, the state platform “Children of War” was created, which contains up-to-date information and personal data of children who suffered from the war in Russia. At the same time, the Russians hide our children as best they can: they take them away, try to change their names, etc. This makes it very difficult to search, especially for small children who cannot remember where they are from.
A very important point is whether the wanted child has relatives in the territory controlled by Ukraine who can arrange guardianship and get the child out of Russia with Ukrainian state support.
Do you have current Figures as to the kidnapped children?
All current data is updated every morning on the Children of War platform. There are currently 16,226 deported and forcibly abducted children. This is not just a number, but a list of names based on information provided by parents, relatives, authorities or witnesses.
This information will be checked by the relevant authorities and a procedure will be initiated for each child. That is, it is concrete data. But part of the territory of Ukraine is occupied and we have no access there. Therefore, only after the liberation will citizens be able to report who was kidnapped and when.
There may be several hundred thousand kidnapped children. The Russian authorities speak in the media of a so-called “evacuation” of 744,000 Ukrainian children. However, this figure is not confirmed by lists or personal data, so we consider it uncertain.
The interviewer was Oleksandr Kunyzkyj
Adapted from Ukrainian: Markian Ostapchuk