Russia "stole" 20,000 Ukrainian children: Only 517 returned to their homes

According to official data from the Ukrainian authorities, at least 19,546 children were taken from Ukraine to Russia by the end of last year

by Sededin Dedovic
Russia "stole" 20,000 Ukrainian children: Only 517 returned to their homes
© Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

The devastating consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which began almost two years ago, extend beyond territorial borders. One alarming issue that persists is the widespread and illegal abduction of children from Ukraine to Russia.

Shockingly, of the approximately 20,000 children abducted during this period, only 517 have been successfully returned, calling for an urgent need for international intervention to address this humanitarian crisis. The data are frightening, and people should ask themselves in which direction our world and civilization is progressing.

In the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip, almost 10 thousand Palestinian children have lost their lives, and what is most unfortunate is that the elites and leading politicians do not feel any empathy. Official data from the Ukrainian authorities show that by the end of last year, an incredible 19,546 children were taken from Ukraine to Russia.

This number, however, refers only to cases that have been officially recorded, and experts suspect that the real number could be significantly higher. Unofficial data from the non-governmental organization Answer claim that this figure is over 30 thousand children who have been abducted or simply disappeared.

This bleak situation is exacerbated by the fact that the return of these children is a complicated process, with legal complexities and geopolitical tensions hindering quick and effective solutions.

Solving problems

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 14, Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lubinets emphasized the urgency of the issue.

He reported that, in addition to 517 returned children, 2,828 adults, including 150 civilians, were successfully returned. Of course, it is good that those numbers of people were returned, but that represents only a few percent of the total number.

Lubinets stressed the critical need for the international community to intensify efforts to return the remaining children, saying unequivocally, "Our task is to return everyone. "

A young boy refugee© Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC)

The seriousness of the situation is further emphasized by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which last March issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow's Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova.

The charges relate to war crimes related to the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children and the transfer of individuals from Ukraine to Russia since the February 2022 invasion. The warrant is still in effect, but the question remains as to who could arrest the President of Russia, from this perspective it seems really impossible, and Putin himself only moves to selected destinations.

According to the ICC, Putin and Lvova-Belova are accused of "committing acts directly, together with others and/or through others." The court emphasized that Putin did not "properly exercise control over civilian and military subordinates", holding him responsible for acts committed under his authority.

The ICC's decision was supported by the United States and most European countries. However, Hungary blocked the EU's joint decision, highlighting the challenges in achieving a unified international response to the crisis. It is not unknown that Hungary's right-wing prime minister Victor Orban is friends with Putin and dictatorial regimes around the world.

The reluctance of some nations to condemn Russia's actions paints a picture of the geopolitical complexity surrounding the conflict.

Russian denials and counterclaims

Despite mounting evidence and international condemnation, the Kremlin has consistently denied allegations of forced deportation.

Russian authorities claim they acted to "save children" from hostilities in Ukraine and express readiness to return those children whose parents and guardians seek their reunion. However, this narrative faces skepticism from human rights advocates who argue that the actions of the Russian authorities constitute a violation of international law and human rights.

And several parents have said publicly that they have received no response from the Kremlin to their request for their child's return. The return of abducted children will be quite challenging and complex, with bureaucratic obstacles and diplomatic intricacies that further complicate the process.

Additionally, the emotional impact on affected families cannot be underestimated. Many parents and guardians are left in a state of agonizing uncertainty, unsure of the well-being and whereabouts of their loved ones.

People, mainly women and children, arrive at Przemysl on a train from Odesa© Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

The role of the international community

Ukraine's call for increased international intervention is not only justified but also imperative.

The urgency of this humanitarian crisis requires a coordinated and strong response from the global community. Efforts should be intensified to put diplomatic pressure on Russia to comply with international law and allow the swift and safe return of all abducted children.

But considering the regime that currently rules in Russia, it will be very difficult. Humanitarian organizations and civil society play a key role in amplifying the voices of affected families and advocating for justice. Their efforts in raising awareness of the plight of abducted children contribute to building international consensus and strengthening solidarity in solving this crisis.

Collaborative initiatives between governments, non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups can potentially lead to more effective strategies for returning children home.
The abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children following the Russian invasion is a deeply disturbing aspect of the ongoing conflict.

The involvement of the ICC is a significant step towards holding those responsible for war crimes accountable. We the people should ask ourselves in which direction our "advanced" civilization is going and how our successors will remember us.

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