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Reviews |  Russia Trafficking of Ukrainian children


BALAKLIYA, Ukraine – Children left this town in August for a free summer camp sponsored by the Russian occupiers, lured by assurances of gifts and safety from constant shelling.

“The Russians promised it would be two or three weeks, then the children would come back,” 29-year-old Nadia Borysenko told me. Her 12-year-old daughter, Daria, was among 25 children from this town in northeastern Ukraine who boarded a bus for the camp.

Russia, however, did not return them. Daria and other children are now across the border in Russia, and Moscow is making it very difficult for families to pick up their children.

The youngsters here are among thousands of Ukrainian children Russia has taken from Ukraine and, in some cases, put up for adoption.

The Ukrainian government counts 11,461 children known by name and taken without families to Russia or areas under Russian control. President Volodymyr Zelensky told the G20 summit there were “tens of thousands” more that are known only indirectly or in less detail.

“Among them are many whose parents were killed by the Russian strikes, and now they are being held in the state that murdered them,” he said.

The transfer of thousands of children is a stark reminder that this is not a typical armed conflict. These may be war crimes. They should be a wake-up call to Americans and Europeans weary of supporting Ukraine.

Do you really want to boost a state sponsor of child trafficking?

Russia does not hide the transfer of Ukrainian children but trumpets it in its television propaganda programs, presenting itself as the savior of abandoned children and showing Russians handing over teddy bears to Ukrainian boys and girls.

Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova bragged last month that she had adopted a Ukrainian boy, and many of those stolen children appear to have been adopted by Russian families.

It’s not charity; it may be genocide. An international treaty of 1948 specifies that “the forced transfer of children”, when it aims to destroy a nationality, constitutes genocide.

However, the situation is also nuanced. I reached Daria on her cell phone, and she didn’t look like a traditional prisoner: she has friends, takes classes and can use her phone every evening to call her mother. But she definitely wants to return home to Ukraine.

“I miss home all the time,” she said.

The Russian authorities allow parents to pick up their children, but only by traveling to Russia via Poland and then other countries. This means parents must scramble to obtain passports and other documents – even though their homes and possessions may have been destroyed by Russian shells – and then bear a substantial expense just as the war has impoverished them. Some parents have managed to do this; most did not.

“Of course it’s a war crime when they take our children,” said Dementiev Mykola, a local prosecutor. “And they are committing a crime by not facilitating the return of these children.”

Mykola noted that the summer camp was attractive because it seemed to be the only way to protect the children from Russian bombardment. He added that if the Russians wanted, they could establish humanitarian corridors to repatriate the children.

Another Balakliya mother, Nadia Borysenko’s sister-in-law, Viktoria Borysenko, whose 12-year-old son Bohdan is at the camp, said he told her over the phone that he and others were being treated well but they wanted to come back. “They’re crying and wanting to go home,” she said.

My best guess is that Russia takes the kids to be props on its TV propaganda shows. And after that don’t bother to return the accessories.

Many children taken to Russia were removed from institutions such as children’s homes, boarding schools and hospitals. Some of these young people had no parents, but when they did, the families were apparently not consulted.

Olena Matvienko told me that her 10-year-old grandson, Illya Matvienko, was in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol with his mother, Natalya, when both were seriously injured by shrapnel. She died in front of Illya and Russian troops took the boy not to a local hospital but to a hospital in an enclave that Russian-backed separatists have declared the People’s Republic of Donetsk.

The family had no idea what had happened to mother and son until a relative in Russia happened to see a report on Russian television about heroic doctors in Donetsk saving Illya.

“He was kidnapped,” she told me. “He was taken away by force.” She said that the Russian authorities had prepared documents so that Illya could be adopted in Russia.

To retrieve his grandson, Matvienko traveled through Poland and Turkey to Russia.

“It was just an accident that this video was seen and reached our family,” she said. “He would have been a Russian boy, and he would have grown up in another family.”

Children are not spoils of war. A government should not traffic thousands of children. These basic propositions underscore the moral issues of the war in Ukraine, and it’s important for the world to stand firmly on the side of right – and bring Daria home to her mother.

Ny

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