Putin: We are ready to negotiate with all parties to the conflict in Ukraine
Many Ukrainian citizens are struggling to reach their “children” who were forcibly deported by Russia from occupied regions under its influence in Ukraine, while Moscow is working to “change the identity” of these children and grant them Russian citizenship, according to a report by “Washington Post”.
Among these children is Oleksandr, who has not seen his mother since Russian soldiers captured her in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol in April and took her away.
At the age of 12, he avoided being “adopted into a Russian family” only because he remembered his grandmother’s phone number and called her to come rescue him.
His grandmother Lyudmila, from the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine, said: “They said they would send him to an orphanage or find a family in Russia, but I told them I would risk my life, I would come and get him,” adding: “I begged them not to send him to Russia.”
As Ukrainians face enormous logistical hurdles to reclaim children taken to Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree last May allowing Russians to quickly and easily adopt “Ukrainian children.”
This policy is strongly enforced by Putin’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova Belova, who openly calls for children to be stripped of their Ukrainian identity and taught to love Russia.
Last spring, she personally adopted an orphaned Ukrainian boy who was evacuated from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which was heavily bombed by Russia.
Deporting children during conflict or changing citizenships is a “potential war crime,” but Russia is keeping quiet about how many Ukrainian children have families or relatives who would like to take them home.
Russian authorities insist that these children do not have Ukrainian families, while Ukrainian officials claim that they belong to Ukraine.
“Russia changed its adoption law to give these children to Russian families as soon as possible,” said Alexandra Romantsova of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize-winning Kiev Center for Civil Liberties, which documents potential Russian war crimes.
“In these families, children are turned away from the truth, so they are not given a chance to maintain contact with Ukrainians or Ukrainian identity,” she added, describing it as one of the ways Russia is trying to destroy “Ukrainian identity.”
Last month, Daria Herasmchuk, Ukraine’s chief child rights official, reported that Ukrainian families had told 10,764 orphaned Ukrainian children to be deported to Russia.
According to her speech at the time, “350 orphans from Donbas have already been placed in foster families” in 16 regions of Russia, but there are another thousand children waiting for “new parents”.
In August, Russia’s Administration for Family and Children of the Krasnodar region published a statement on its website that more than 1,000 children from Ukraine had been adopted by families in distant cities such as Tyumen, Irkutsk, Kemerovo and even the Altai region, more than 2,000 miles from Ukraine.
The board said another 300 were awaiting adoption, before quickly deleting the “statement.”
Several families who spoke to The Washington Post revealed that their children were “adopted by the Russians despite the presence of their families.”
In September, Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, namely “Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporozhye and Kherson”, which are partially controlled by the Russian army, after holding local “referendums” that were condemned by Kyiv and the West, according to “Agence France Presse”.
And after Moscow requested the annexation of Ukrainian lands, Russian authorities doubled their size, insisting that children in those four regions are now “Russians,” according to the Washington Post.
In November, Ukraine recaptured Kherson, the capital of the region of the same name, in a major setback for Moscow after a weeks-long counteroffensive.
Before the Russians retreated from the city, an “unknown” number of orphanages and homes for disabled children were occupied.
On December 12, Human Rights Watch revealed that the number of forced illegal transfers of Ukrainians, including children, to Russia “remains unclear.”
In a note to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the organization called on Russia to “stop all further adoptions”.
In July, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe revealed that 2,000 Ukrainian children had been taken to Russia despite having families in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians who have lost their children face bureaucratic and often dangerous resistance in trying to bring them home.
A real tragedy
On March 24, Alexander’s family was torn apart by Russian attacks on Mariupol, and a Ukrainian child was shot in one eye during a Russian rocket attack.
His mother Snežana gave him medical help, and later they were arrested by Russian forces.
The Russians then sent the boy to a hospital in the Moscow-controlled Donetsk region, where he was told that the Russians would adopt him because he had no parents.
There, the Russians talked to him about Ukraine and Russia and told him that “his country is bad and the Ukrainians are evil”, and the children were forced to “speak in Russian”, according to the testimony of his family for the “Washington Post”.
To avoid combat zones, Alexander’s grandmother Lyudmila traveled from Ukraine through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Russia to Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine to bring her grandson back.
But she confirmed that she was subjected to prolonged interrogation and pressure from security officials in occupied Donetsk to stay and said: “I had to lie a little, it was the only way out.”
Olga Lopatkina and her husband, Denis, from Voldar, Ukraine, faced similar roadblocks trying to bring back six of their nine children, after the children, aged seven to 17, were stranded at the Mariupol sanatorium on the Russian side of the frontline.
Lopatkina sent all the documents needed to bring her six children home, but social welfare officials with ties to Moscow rejected her, revealing that the officials told the children they would be “adopted by the Russians.”
“It was a kidnapping,” Lopatkina said. “The worst thing is that our children are always told: ‘Just forget your parents, you will go to Russia and you will be Russian’.”