- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2022

Ukrainian officials in Russian-occupied territories are accusing Moscow of forcibly deporting orphans to Russia as the Kremlin formalizes its illegal annexation of four regions in eastern Ukraine.

Serhi Haidai, the governor of Luhansk province, said 76 orphans from the region were taken to “social rehabilitation centers” near Moscow and another 104 institutionalized children were being prepared for adoption in Russia.

“This allows the occupiers to close the generation gap, especially among the male population, which is growing daily with the number of military deaths,” Mr. Haidai said this week on the social media app Telegram.

Luhansk is one of four regions in Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed as territory through so-called referendums held in violation of international laws.

The Russianization of parentless Ukrainian children is part of a broader crisis of war orphans scattered across Europe.

Mr. Haidai’s accusation builds on reports of unaccompanied children being forced into Russia

SEE ALSO: Biden warns risk of nuclear ‘Armageddon’ approaching Cuban Missile Crisis heights

Ilze Brands Kehris, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, alerted the Security Council last month about “credible allegations of forced transfers of unaccompanied children to Russian-occupied territory.”

“We are concerned that the Russian authorities have adopted a simplified procedure to grant Russian citizenship to children without parental care, and that these children would be eligible for adoption by Russian families,” she said.

UNICEF said children should never be adopted during or immediately after emergencies.

Human Rights Watch, an international nongovernmental group that spotlights human rights abuses, condemned hasty war-zone adoptions as a violation of laws of armed conflict that “prohibit a party to the conflict from evacuating children who are not its own nationals to a foreign country without their parents’ or guardians’ written consent, except temporarily as needed for compelling health or safety reasons.”

Days after Ms. Brands Kehris raised her concerns, Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, announced that 125 orphans from Donetsk had arrived in Russia to be placed with Russian families or in foster care. 

The children, some of whom are disabled, range in age from 3 to 17 and have “lived for a long time in children’s homes and orphanages.” 

SEE ALSO: Risk of recession rising as Russian invasion of Ukraine, inflation hit global economy, IMF warns

“All the children have already received Russian citizenship and adoption or custody is conducted under Russian law,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Russia said it placed 300 children from Donetsk with Russian families or in foster care and confirmed that 104 orphans from Luhansk “are being prepared for arrival in Russia as well.”

The number of Ukrainian children in Russia may be far higher, some fear, and tracking the number of orphans among them may be insurmountable. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in June that 200,000 children had been forcefully taken to Russia since the start of the war in February. Human Rights Watch said it has not been able to confirm that figure. 

Before the Russian invasion, more than 105,000 children were institutionalized across a network of 700 orphanages throughout Ukraine. They accounted for more than 1% of Ukraine’s total child population. 

By July, Reuters reported, more than 96,000 had been removed from institutions and placed under the care of parents or guardians. Because of the Ukrainian government’s lack of recordkeeping, the whereabouts of thousands of children discharged from orphanages are unknown.

UNICEF said last month that it was unable to reach 26,000 children removed from institutions. Of those, 4,777 were sent home from orphanages in Russian-occupied territories. 

Western officials said the mass deportations of Ukrainians to Russia are likely part of a “filtration” operation in which civilians are interrogated, detained and forcefully deported to suppress resistance in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence published an assessment last month on the State Department’s website that said Russia was “almost certainly” subjecting Ukrainian civilians in occupied regions to filtration operations. 

“Individuals face one of three fates after undergoing filtration, which includes being issued documentation and remaining in Russian-occupied Ukraine, forcefully deported to Russia, or detained in prisons in eastern Ukraine or Russia,” the DNI said.

The State Department said it received reports that thousands of Ukrainians, including children, were sent to Russia and some were undergoing reeducation or indoctrination.

“Once in Russia, some reports indicate that Ukrainian children undergo what Russia refers to as psychological ‘rehabilitation’ and are forced to complete unspecified educational projects,” the State Department said.

Vasily Nebenzya, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, said the accusation was “unfounded.” He said civilians were fleeing Ukraine “to save themselves from the criminal regime.”

“As far as we can judge, similar procedures are applied in Poland and other countries of the European Union against Ukrainian refugees,” Mr. Nebenzya told the Security Council last month.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide