Dear Reader, Thank you for joining us this week. This will be part of a series from National Security Media, in cooperation with our partners, to document the conditions for children, killed, injured, kidnapped and abused by the Russian Federation. In a series of cases, we will examine how these children and their families were captured and treated in this war against Ukraine by the Russian Federation.
Special Note: These are sensitive stories, and we caution the listener to remember, if you are uneasy about stories involving trauma to people especially children in war, please remember Russia is a terrorist state that uses extreme methods in its world conquest. Please be mindful of this as you listen. Thank you for your support.
THE STOLEN GENERATION:
PUTIN’S CRIMINAL ABDUCTION OF UKRAINIAN CHILDREN
By Chris Sampson
“The Numbers Alone Tell A Horrific Story,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. The killing, injuring, kidnapping, torturing and raping of children will be among the worst crimes to account for by the Russian Federation, led by Vladimir Putin.
On top of the unfathomable crime of the invasion itself and the deaths of children in the battles, the artillery attacks and the missile and drone strikes, the Russians have been kidnapping Ukrainian children who are then additionally stripped of their national identities. Once in occupation, the children were without their parents, told not to speak Ukrainian or express Ukrainian identity. Even worse, Russia openly adopted out Ukrainian children without any intention of returning them to their Ukrainian families. Additionally, special needs and medical considerations were ignored.
However, Russia has spared no time to seek indoctrination as it created camps across Crimea to hold thousands of children. As Ukrainian forces prepare to take the land back, there are camps that will be used as human shields by the forces. Many children were removed entirely from the region and brought further into camps across Moscow and as far as Siberia.
As of Independence Day, August 24, 2023, Russia had been attacking for a year and a half and killed at least 10,000 civilians and around 20,000 injured. But the worst numbers related to children. At least 545 children had been killed in the full-scale invasion. The numbers are merely the confirmed counts as we don’t know the condition of anyone who was trapped behind enemy lines and as has been demonstrated since liberation of territories started after February 2022, Russia hides its crimes including use of mass graves that could take years to uncover and account for.
It is important to remember that this war has been going on since 2014 and over 1 million children who were in occupied territories have been deported further into Russia. Additionally, Russia took a generation of abducted young men from 2014 on and turned them into weapons against their homeland through intense brainwashing and militaristic indoctrination. It has already been documented that the new abducted generation is facing the same fate of conscription and weaponization against Ukraine itself.
Russia has faced accusations of committing war crimes in connection with the removal of children from Ukraine. These allegations have led to the issuance of an ICC arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin, as well as for a Russian official overseeing the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children, Maria Lvova Belova. She was appointed by Putin to the position of “Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights” in October 2021. As a consequence of these deportations, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants on March 12, 2023.
Russia’s propaganda system rebrands its crimes to appear as if they are true humanitarians. Maria Lvova Belova said stolen children would be able to return to Ukraine on their own once they reached age of majority. However, she didn’t address the indoctrination, forced need of Russian passport and all removal of Ukrainian identity including language to comply with the demands of their obvious detention. Nor did she address the indoctrination leading to conscription of boys as young as 9 who were put into camouflage Russian fatigues and photos of which were sent to family members.
In this, we see the greatest motivation of the Russian Federation, the elimination of Ukrainian identity and a deep sense of self hatred for the young people in favor of the pro Kremlin propaganda of a great Russia with Vladimir Putin as their savior from the wickedness of Ukrainian Nationalism. Afterall, he had such contempt for Lenin’s deference to nationalism he made specific slight of it in his preinvasion speech of February 21, 2022, when he said that Ukraine was an “inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space.”
Putin knew what this meant in these carefully chosen words. The words are woven to give an impression of Russian centric history that intentionally coopts Ukrainian identity when it wants to but perpetually subdues it to the greater Russian identity thus eliminating any agency or sovereignty of the people. And it is this that is taught to the children in captivity and forced indoctrination under the Russian Federation.
RUSSIA’S OBSTRUCTION ACCOUNTABILITY
In certain instances, the necessity of retaining custody of the children was to prevent them from disclosing Russian crimes. Despite their youth, these children, as citizens of the country, were capable of witnessing these Russian transgressions and consequently posed a risk to the accountability for these violations against both the nation and its citizens. Those children who have already been released have provided testimony regarding the brutality of the Russians. Furthermore, children who remained in contact with Russians since the full-scale invasion have borne witness to the most horrendous atrocities, even without enduring the torture of captivity. Repeatedly, the Russians have demonstrated their intent to conceal their criminal activities.
As accounts from released children are recorded, the evident objective of the Russian agenda becomes clear: the erasure of Ukrainian identity and the obliteration of the children’s memories of their country, their families, and their parents. This form of psychological abuse will leave a lasting impact on their consciousness for years to come, despite therapeutic interventions. Presently, child psychologists are actively assisting rescued children as they adapt to their return, many of whom are now either orphans or living with a parent under occupation.
The Ukrainian government’s website, ‘Children Of War,’ features numerous examples of children who have suffered abuse in occupied territories. For instance, there’s the case of Oleksandr, a 12-year-old who was forcibly taken by the Russians. He had already sustained an eye injury from shrapnel, and his mother was desperately seeking assistance for him in the soon-to-be-besieged Illyich. Following his capture in Mariupol, he was transported to Novoazovsk before ultimately ending up in Donetsk. On April 19, 2022, he managed to contact his grandmother, Liudmila, and implored, “Grandma, take me away from here.” She immediately began the necessary bureaucratic procedures to bring him home.
During his captivity, Oleksandr was informed that he had been forgotten, and that he might be adopted by a Russian family or placed in an orphanage. After his rescue, he could have been. This psychological assault on a child was not an isolated incident.
The abuse of children has been documented by other non-governmental groups like SaveUkraine, led by Mykhola Kuleba. For instance, they recorded the abuse of Vselvolod, a 9-year-old who was subjected to physical violence after being forcibly taken by “Social Services” in Russian-occupied Melitopol. Thanks to their intervention, he was eventually reunited with his family, but he is just one of the 386 children known to have been returned, while over 10,000 others still remain in captivity.
The Russians have developed an elaborate detention process that employs camps and living facilities to detain thousands of children across Crimea and Russia. This system utilizes layers of bureaucracy to integrate Ukrainian children into its facilities without any consideration of their possible return. For many of the children abducted from Ukraine, they have been relocated to “reeducation camps” both in Crimea and abroad, with 43 locations having already been identified.
Based on data collected by Yale and other investigators, these children are categorized into at least four groups internally. The first group comprises children with parents or clear familial guardianship. The second group includes orphans as defined by the Russian Federation. The third group consists of children who were disabled and in the care of the Ukrainian government at the time of the invasion. The last group is comprised of undesignated children who lack proper documentation or clear status falling into the previous categories.
Once in custody, these children are prioritized accordingly. If a child has parents, it becomes more challenging to make them vanish into the Russian Federation since a parent would actively seek them. Consequently, these children are sent to indoctrination camps. Conversely, children who have lost their parents or are wards of the government are more easily assimilated into the Russian population.
It has also been documented that Ukrainian children who were in Ukrainian orphanages within occupied territories were not necessarily orphans, but their family circumstances required government assistance. These children are now being adopted by Russian families and essentially disappearing from Ukrainian society forever.
Recruitment for these camps was conducted under the premise of offering a better life for children from low-income families, and parents who were understandably terrified. They believed that sending their children to these camps would provide them with protection from the fighting, access to food, shelter, and a cleaner living environment compared to what the occupied territory could offer. Furthermore, the cost was an additional incentive, as the entire operation was free for Ukrainians.
However, children who were taken to these camps and promised a return to their families in occupied territories did not come back as scheduled. In some documented cases, there are children who have never returned from these camps. In the upcoming segments, we will explore the case evidence of many children who have been abducted through these camps. What’s most important is to understand and highlight the true motivations behind what the Russian Federation has done with these children.
THE STATUS CHECK
As of October 17, 2023, there are at least 19,546 children who have been deported or forcibly displaced, with at least 1,321 reported as missing. In October 2022, the United States stated that over 260,000 children had been abducted from Ukraine.
It has been 600 days since the full-scale invasion and 3,526 days since the invasion of Crimea began. Prior to the invasion on February 24, 2022, approximately 500 children were taken from eastern Ukraine, which was already under occupation, into Russian territory.
DETENTION CENTERS AND “SUMMER CAMPS”
Indoctrination camps are not a new concept in Russia, as most of the older generation likely experienced one of the numerous “Young Pioneer” camps of the Soviet Union. These camps were an extension of the Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization. Presented as ordinary summer camps focused on sports, team building, and fun, these indoctrination camps were initiated in 1925 and became a pervasive aspect of Soviet life. Over 10 million children were exposed to these camps during the Soviet Union era.
In Ukraine, following the full-scale invasion, similar camps were established with the intention of indoctrinating Ukrainian youth. In early 2023, a report from Yale University identified a total of 43 such “facilities,” with 41 of them operating under the guise of “summer camps” for indoctrination purposes in Crimea and Russia. In the Black Sea region alone, there are twelve of these camps, and in the occupied territory of Crimea, there are seven. Beyond these areas, these camps are scattered across Russia, including locations near Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, and extending further toward Siberia and the Magadan oblast, which is situated nearly 4,000 miles away. These were the locations pinpointed by Yale, but there may be others.
In these camps, young individuals undergo a process of Russian imperial militaristic indoctrination that centers the curriculum on a Moscow-centric worldview while eradicating their Ukrainian identity through euphemistically labeled “integration programs.” These programs reframe the history of the region to persuade students that Russia was the true savior of the Slavic people and the Orthodox faith.
In occupied territories, “social services” personnel actively seek out children in the community, then advocate for their participation in these programs, regardless of their parents’ consent. In cases where parents objected, Ukrainian youth would still be compelled to enroll in the camps and programs, often due to the coercive context of the occupation.
The so-called ‘education process’ in Russian-occupied regions is steeped in the reinforcement of Russian imperial narratives. This includes the use of textbooks filled with slogans like “Living is serving one’s motherland,” even though these captive young people are being taken away from their own homeland and redirected toward a different, foreign allegiance. It is within this process of reprogramming that we uncover another layer contributing to the well-founded accusation of genocide.
When Russians teach the concept of “motherland” to Ukrainian children, they are, in essence, referring only to Russia. This teaching includes phrases like “The Russian Language is great and powerful” and emphasizes an opposition to the collective West.
Grand Narratives encompass the shaping of the old Russian identity. In this narrative, a young person is led to believe that the older of the two civilizations is Russia, and, consequently, a true return to their motherland can only mean returning to Russia. In lessons on Russian language superiority, it is asserted that all other Slavic languages originate from Russian, with no consideration of alternative origins. All subjects are infused with the theme of war and sacrifice for the motherland, which, once again, exclusively signifies Russia.
Another distinction between Russia and Ukraine lies in their treatment of authority figures. In Ukraine, figures such as the President and Rada members are not endowed with godlike attributes. However, in the Russian curriculum, Tsars, Stalin, and Putin are portrayed with larger-than-life mythos deeply rooted in the idea of divine selection.
To comprehend how Russia seeks to influence Ukrainian children’s education, one need only examine the supplied textbooks, which conspicuously omit any mention of Ukraine. Ukraine is never granted full agency in Russian education, with Ukrainians often relegated to either the Polish region or Muscovy, without any acknowledgment of their sovereignty.
It should be considered that education experts emphasize that children lack the critical thinking skills in their youth to discern the truth when it is presented in good faith. The Russian imperialist brainwashing, with the intention of deceiving them, exploits the vulnerability of children and poses a threat to the future of another generation of Ukrainians who may be led to believe that they are actually Russians and are unaware of the truth.
THE DIFFERENCES MATTER
The repatriation of children exclusively falls within the humanitarian realm, far removed from areas where Russia might argue a right to detain these most vulnerable human beings. Children are neither combatants nor authority figures, as we have discussed in previous segments. The release of soldiers is significant for Ukraine, although it can be argued that it is not mandated by the laws of war. Russia has released commanders from units it had previously named as the worst of the worst in Ukraine, yet it continues to detain children who have no power to engage in politics or defend themselves as soldiers would. Children are the most vulnerable, and this is precisely why Russia has kidnapped them.
At first glance, the actions of the Russian Federation do not appear to have humanitarian intentions. The mistreatment of Ukrainians by the Russian system is a deliberate effort to further solidify Russian control over Ukrainian territory. According to the laws of war, an occupying force is typically obligated to respect the laws and norms of the community they have taken over. Applying this principle, one could argue that if Russia’s objective was to eliminate ‘Nazi influence’ from the country, there would be no need to forcibly Russify the population. They could simply refrain from altering existing laws, avoid installing puppet leaders who undermine Ukraine in pursuit of financial gain, and refrain from pursuing a dominion characterized by decay and violence. What’s more, there would be no need to rewrite history in favor of a Russosphere that leaves children defenseless in the obliteration of their Ukrainian identity, often without them realizing that their culture is being stripped away.
Ukrainian experts in the field of child psychology who are working to document these new “textbooks” have also discovered that, after months of exposure to the Russian propaganda found throughout these books, they, too, experienced a significant shift in the narratives they have come to understand through their education and experience. This sentiment has raised concerns for children in occupied territories or those who have already been subjected to this propaganda. Will they have any chance of comprehending the manipulation they’ve been subjected to, even after they return? Will Ukraine be able to provide the necessary mental health programs that these children will undoubtedly need?
Many countries have been involved in various ways to assist in repatriating children, including some that are not typically considered ‘Friends of Ukraine,’ as mentioned by Kateryna Rashevska, an activist and lawyer from the Ukrainian Regional Center for Human Rights. She noted that these efforts also involved countries like Rwanda, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and others. However, the releases that have occurred thus far have only returned a small number of children, which pales in comparison to the numbers known to be held by the Russian Federation.
Once children are being returned, different processes come into play depending on how they were repatriated. This includes considerations such as whether they were returned to their family, other family members, or if they are orphaned. It also takes into account whether they were in one of the camps or in the custody of the “special services.
A website, childrenofwar.gov.ua, has been established to aid in tracking these missing children. The website features a reporting page where users can choose to report a missing child or seek consultation. Information on this portal is updated daily, which includes brief news reports on releases and recoveries.
WAR CRIMES: PUTIN AND LVOVA BELOVA
In March 2023, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for both Vladimir Putin and his “children’s rights commissioner,” Maria Lvova Belova, for their involvement in the criminal abduction of Ukrainian children during the illegal invasion of the country. This arrest warrant essentially means that 123 signatory countries are obligated to arrest him.
In July 2022, Maria Lvova Belova organized an event where she praised the abductions, using fourteen Ukrainian children as props to provide them with “Russian identity papers.” Then, in September 2022, children from Mariupol were coerced into participating in a staged protest, during which they were forced to sing “Love Russia.” In other instances, victims from Mariupol were compelled to express gratitude to Russian soldiers for rescuing them from Ukrainians. It’s important to note that Russia is not a signatory to the ICC and does not recognize its authority. Several Russian allies who are signatories to the ICC have indicated that they may need to take action should Putin or Lvova Belova ever visit their territory.
This has been an introductory overview of the abducted children in Ukraine by the Russian Federation. We have many more segments to share with you, including interviews with individuals who have survived occupation, detention, torture, and the anguish of waiting for their loved ones to be returned. We will explore the path to legal accountability through the ICC and the ongoing efforts to rescue these children. We will also examine the conditions as described by children and their families who have endured the crimes committed by Russia. Furthermore, we will delve into the endeavor to manipulate Ukraine’s children against their own country through both indoctrination and military training.
We extend our gratitude to our numerous partners, including Zmina Group, the Five AM Coalition, Kateryna Rashevska from the Ukrainian Regional Center for Human Rights, and our eternal appreciation goes out to the dedicated team at the Ukraine Media Center, who work diligently to provide us with access to experts and eyewitnesses to the crimes committed by the Russian Federation.