Russia has separated thousands of Ukrainian children from their families or caregivers and held them in camps and facilities where they are exposed to a Russia-centric curriculum, a new report shows. Many children are still missing.
More than 6,000 Ukrainian children between the ages of 4 months to 17 years have been taken to facilities designed to mold them into Russian citizens following the February 2022 full-scale invasion, Yale’s Humanitarian Research Lab said. The camps are spread widely from Russia-occupied Crimea in Ukraine to Russia’s Far East.
The report said many children are eventually returned to their parents, but others have been held for months at these camps, including hundreds of children whose status is unknown.
Ukrainian officials have estimated more than 14,000 children from Ukraine have been sent to Russia, but the actual number could be much higher.
Researchers used satellite imagery and public information such as social media posts to identify the camps and confirm the presence of Ukrainian children.
Among the major findings:
- Russia operates a vast network of at least 43 known facilities.
- Ukrainian children were placed with “foster families” in Russia. Some were “adopted,” given Russian nationality and passports, and denied their Ukrainian citizenship.
- Some children are forced into pro-Russia re-education programs. Some are given military training.
- Dozens of officials at all levels of Russia’s government are involved in the planning of removals, camp operations, and ways to prevent the return of children to Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the report “details Russia’s vast program to take Ukraine’s children from their families or legal guardians, relocate them across borders, and “re-educate” them to be pro-Russia. These actions are unconscionable and must stop.”
The report is the latest in a series of investigations by the Conflict Observatory, a State Department-supported initiative with Yale University and other researchers, into possible evidence of Russia-perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities.
Schoolchildren taken from Ukraine
The report states that 32 camps are called “integration programs,” which indoctrinate Ukrainian children in Russian history and propaganda, as well as language and culture. Some children in the camps receive military training.
Russia claims children are taken from Ukraine for four reasons:
- To attend “recreational camps.”
- To be evacuated from combat sites.
- To receive medical evaluation.
- To be adopted by Russian families.
Parents of children taken to the camps reported being pressured to send their children to Russia. Others reported not giving consent for their children to be taken and being misled about their children’s return dates. Some signed consent documents purporting to grant power of attorney where the name of an individual taking custody was left blank, leaving no way to trace where a child went after being taken. Others say they were denied the ability to retrieve their children, or otherwise denied contact with and access to them.
“all levels of Russia’s government are involved.”
— Nathaniel Raymond,
Yale Humanitarian Research Lab
Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, leads the operation at the federal level. During summer 2022, Lvova-Belova said 350 Ukrainian “orphans” from the Donbas region were adopted by Russian families, while another 1,000 Ukrainian children were awaiting adoption in Russia. The U.S. government in September imposed sanctions on Lvova-Belova, noting her efforts to take thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s commissioner for human rights, works closely with Lvova-Belova and uses human rights language to disguise the “integration” programs’ purpose, according to the report. In addition, it notes that Yale’s research identified several dozen federal, regional and local figures directly engaged in operating and publicly justifying the relocation and “re-education” efforts.
“Giving [Ukraine’s children Russian] nationality or having them adopted goes against the fundamental principles of child protection in situations of war,” said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “This is something that is happening in Russia and must not happen.”