Ukraine Says Russia Has Abducted More Than 13,000 Children

  • Russia has deported 13,000 children from Ukraine since the start of the war, an official said Friday.
  • “And this, unfortunately, is not the final figure,” Daria Herasymchuk, a Ukrainian government advisor, said.
  • Bill Van Esveld, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said forcible deportations are war crimes.

More than 13,000 Ukrainian children have been taken to Russia from Ukraine since the February invasion, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday, adding that the actual figure was likely much higher.

At a press briefing in Kyiv, Darya Gerasimchuk, an advisor charged with protecting children’s rights, said the authorities in Moscow had “deported or relocated” the kids from areas occupied by Russian forces. “And this, unfortunately, is not the final figure,” she said, according to Interfax-Ukraine, an independent news agency.

Ukrainian officials have previously suggested that the actual number of children forcibly taken from the country could number in the hundreds of thousands.

Under the Geneva Conventions, it is a crime for a warring party to transfer another country’s children to its own territory unless there are “imperative reasons” to do so, in which case “all necessary steps must be taken to facilitate the return of the children to their families and their country.”

The Russian embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to Ukraine’s National Information Bureau, which was created in March to document casualties and alleged war crimes, no fewer than 13,112 children have been “deported” since Russia invaded the country. At least 443 children have been killed and 855 have been wounded, per Ukrainian law enforcement; another 330 have gone missing.

Bill Van Esveld, associate director of the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, told Insider that his organization cannot confirm Ukraine’s figures. But in September, HRW documented a case of 17 children who were “forcibly transferred” from Mariupol to Russia.

He said that the forcible transfer of children without parental consent violates international law. Throughout the war in Ukraine, Russia has faced numerous allegations of atrocities and war crimes, many of which are backed by substantial evidence.

Russia asserts that the deported children are orphans. But in October, an investigation by the Associated Press found that Russian officials had, in fact, deported children “without consent, lied to them that they weren’t wanted by their parents, [and] used them for propaganda.”

In May, Russia changed its laws to allow Ukrainian children to be granted Russian citizenship, paving the way for them to be given to Russian families. Over the summer, Russian state media claimed that more than 555,000 Ukrainian kids had entered the country.

Van Esveld said around 160 Ukrainian children have reportedly been adopted under that process. “It might be more,” he said. “That’s also unlawful.”

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