On Friday the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, charging him with war crimes. Among the crimes the ICC says are evident, include the abductions of children from Ukraine since the full-scale invasion of the country by its neighbor, Russia began almost 13 months ago.
Authorities say that at least 16,000 Ukrainian children have been removed from homes, orphanages and childcare centers, taken by buses out of towns and villages that had been attacked by Russian forces. Most Ukrainian authorities say the number of children kidnapped by Russia is likely much higher, but the true number isn’t known.
According to several reports, including those by news agencies and children’s rights advocates, Russia has taken the children to camps and in many cases is reportedly adopting them out to Russian families “to make them good Russians.” The seizing of children has occurred in towns and villages that are Russian-occupied. Children have been taken from “orphanages” and children’s centers and schools, as well as from hospitals and homes.
In fact, how Russia began to take the children is like some nightmare version of a fairy tale. In August, 2022, the children of some Russian-occupied villages such as Balakluva, Ukraine were taken to a two to three-week “free summer camp” sponsored by the occupiers. Their parents agreed with the promise of gifts and safety from the constant shelling for their children. The problem? Russia did not return the children. Their frantic parents have tried to find out their whereabouts, have tried to get them back, without success. Some heartbroken parents have learned from relatives in Russia that the children have been adopted by Russian families.
“There are now tens of thousands of children” who have been taken to Russian-controlled territory,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy when he met with the G20 Summit. “Among them are many whose parents were killed by Russian strikes, and now they are being held in the state that murdered them.”
What’s wrong with this news besides everything?
“Of course it’s a war crime when they take our children,” said a local prosecutor Dementiev Mykola. “And they commit another crime by not making it easy for those children to come back.” He thinks that Russia takes the children to serve as part of their propaganda at home about how they are liberating children.
Even with those children that Russia says are orphans, not all children in orphanages or resident childcare centers in Ukraine are orphans and Putin has kidnapped them. Many are there because their families are in temporary crisis, or because there is something going on that means the children can’t be taken care of at home, but they have families and are not legally adoptable.
Ukraine, like most former Soviet bloc countries, does not have a foster care system comparable to the U.S.; they use their Soviet-era orphanages. Just lately, many children are in those centers because both of their parents are at war fighting Putin’s forces.
That Russians doesn’t have a good record of adopting their own children. In any given year since the 1990s, Russia already has more than 600,000 of its own Russian children in orphanages and Russians have never rushed to adopt them; which is why inter-country adoption began after the fall of the Soviet bloc, and continued with U.S citizens adopting children from Russian orphanages until Dec. 2012 — when Putin without warning, shut it down. So the idea that they are eager to take in Ukrainian children (at least without major financial incentives) is a myth.
Frankly, many of the young draftees that the Russian army is throwing at Ukraine are graduates out of the Russian orphanage system — where they age out at age 16 with no training, no money, no families, and are duty-bound to be conscripted.
The court is based in The Hague, Netherlands. It has also issued a warrant for the arrest of the commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation Maria Lvova-Belova.
Russia of course says it isn’t bound by ICC jurisdiction, so it’s unlikely that Putin or Lvova-Belova will stand trial. But it does mean that Putin cannot travel in any of the ICC countries without being arrested. The ICC’s arrest warrant was the first warrant issued against the leader of one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Not only is Russia disregarding the arrest warrant, but The New York Times says that their sources tell them that Russia doesn’t just plan to continue forcibly removing Ukrainian children from the country they have invaded, but that they intend to ramp up the seizure of children.
It should go without saying that children are not spoils of war. But increasingly the world is seeing that Russia’s invasion of its democratic neighbor is a war to destroy their nation, their culture, and their families.