The Ukrainian government has identified over 19,500 Ukrainian children who have been forcibly deported to Russia.
The Kyiv Independent’s War Crimes Investigations Unit established the names of Russian-controlled officials who took part in the abduction and followed the paths of families who risked their lives to bring their children back.
The Kyiv Independent found 31 children taken to Russia in May 2022 from occupied parts of Ukraine. The children have not been returned to Ukraine. Part of the group was later put up for adoption in Russia.
Among them was Pylyp Holovnya, illegally adopted by Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Lvova-Belova for her part in the abduction of Ukrainian children.
Russia is systematically deporting Ukrainian children from the occupied part of Ukraine against their will – which constitutes genocide according to one of the five definitions given in the United Nations' Genocide Convention.
Once in Russia, Ukrainian children are held incommunicado, brainwashed with pro-Russian propaganda, and adopted by Russian families – even though they have living relatives in Ukraine who are their legal guardians.
Nobody knows for sure how large this "stolen generation" of Ukrainian children is. The Ukrainian authorities have identified almost 20,000 children who have been abducted by Russia since the start of its full-scale invasion and war, but human rights workers believe the true number is far, far higher.
As of early 2023, the highest number of deported children was from Donetsk Oblast.
On March 17, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia's commissioner on child rights, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, on suspicion of their involvement in organizing the abduction of Ukrainian children.
Investigating these abductions, the Kyiv Independent has spoken to more than 40 people and has discovered that the process of deportation of children from the city of Mariupol in the Russian-occupied part of Donetsk Oblast involved Russian-placed employees of social services, medical facilities, and children's social centers from the parts of the oblast initially invaded by Russia in 2014.
Children were deported from Mariupol to the earlier-occupied territories and then kept for some time in at least nine hospitals in Donetsk – even if they were uninjured.
After that, some were deported to Russia under the pretext of continuing their "recovery" in Russia. In fact, they were subsequently placed in the care of Russian families or orphanages.
The Russian families would try to convince the deported children that Ukraine had been destroyed, gave them a pro-Russian military-patriotic education, and monitored their behavior.
The Kyiv Independent also found that some children were deported to the suburbs of Moscow to the Polyany boarding house – a branch of the Children's Medical Center of the Administration of President Vladimir Putin's Affairs.
The Kyiv Independent has established the whereabouts of some of these children and has identified some of those responsible for their abduction to Russia.