The Russian government is holding at least 6,000 Ukrainian children in camps in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, according to a U.S.-backed report published on Tuesday, part of what human rights advocates call Moscow’s systemic attempt to Russify occupied parts of Ukraine.
Most of the children, who are between four months and 17 years old, are being kept at “integration programs” that are designed to immerse them in pro-Russian ideals, the report said. Other facilities are holding children before putting them up for adoption or foster care in Russia.
The research was a collaboration between Yale University and the Conflict Observatory program, which the State Department set up in May to document war crimes and other atrocities committed by Russian and Russian-backed forces in Ukraine. The researchers released their findings through a report from Conflict Observatory.
Since Moscow’s invasion in February, Russian authorities have announced with fanfare the transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia to be adopted and become citizens, The Times reported in October. On state-run television, officials offer teddy bears to new arrivals, who are portrayed as abandoned children being rescued from war.
This mass transfer of children is a potential war crime, regardless of whether they were orphans, experts say. And while many of the children did come from orphanages and group homes, the authorities also took children whose relatives or guardians want them back, according to international human rights officials.
“There have been credible allegations of forced transfers of unaccompanied children to Russian-occupied territory, or to the Russian Federation itself,” the United Nations assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, said in September.
The report published on Tuesday said that at least 6,000 children are being held in 43 camps, although the numbers of both “are likely significantly higher.” Forty-one of the sites used to be summer camps in Russia and Russia-occupied Crimea.
The report described the program as systematic and “coordinated by Russia’s federal government.” More than two-thirds of the facilities are engaged in “re-education” efforts, exposing children to pro-Russian views “with the apparent goal of integrating children from Ukraine into the Russian government’s vision of national culture, history, and society,” it said, adding that some camps have also provided children with military training.
“The alleged actions of the Russian Federation since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 can constitute the grave violation of child abduction during armed conflict,” the report said. It cited rushed adoptions, transferring children across international borders and prolonged custody without express consent from guardians as possible violations of the Geneva Conventions.
Emma Bubola contributed reporting.