Russia transferred 17 Ukrainian children with disabilities from the occupied part of Donetsk Oblast to a rehabilitation center near Moscow as part of the forced passportization campaign in the occupied territories of Ukraine, Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said on Jan. 22.
Ukrainian authorities have identified over 19,000 Ukrainian children who have been illegally deported to Russia since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022. Some of them were deported under the guise of sending them for rehabilitation and then put into the custody of Russian families.
Only 388 children have been brought back to Ukraine so far, according to the national database Children of War.
The 17 children, who have issues related to their nervous and musculoskeletal systems, were reportedly taken to the “Ogonyok” rehabilitation center near Moscow by a Russian Defense Ministry plane, according to Lubinets.
The Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova reportedly facilitated the transfer.
“The practice of transferring Ukrainian children is not a gesture of goodwill with the aim of helping, but a strategically important program of the aggressor state — when, under the pretext of providing medical care, the Russians force Russian citizenship onto Ukrainians,” Lubinets said on Telegram.
“A mandatory condition for treatment is the presence of a Russian passport, which, by (Russian dictator Vladimir) Putin’s order, is issued according to a simplified procedure. In this way, Russian citizenship is imposed under coercion, which contradicts the norms of international law.”
Putin signed a decree on Jan. 4, which states that Ukrainian orphans and children left without parental care can receive Russian citizenship by Putin's personal decision without taking into account all or some requirements of federal legislation.
According to Lubinets, this document will facilitate granting Russian citizenship to deported Ukrainian children, which, in turn, will allow for adopting them as Russians and changing their identity.
Russia has deported 150 Ukrainian children from the occupied parts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts under the pretext of rehabilitation in 2023, Lubinets added in his Telegram post.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova in March for their role in the abduction of Ukrainian children.