Children of war: illegal displacement of Ukrainian children, Alina Goncharova

The protection of children's rights is one of the main tasks not only of the state or individual human rights institutions, but also of the entire international community. The international community emphasises that children are the successors of modern civilisation and the relations that are emerging in modern society. At the international legal level, childhood is one of the main legal values, which has been repeatedly emphasised in international acts of both global and regional nature.

Since the beginning of the Russian Federation's invasion on Ukrainian territory, the problem of illegal deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia has arisen. The resettlement is carried out under the pretext of evacuation from the occupied cities, medical treatment or rehabilitation in children's camps. However, a distinctive feature of evacuation is its official organisation by representatives of the Ukrainian authorities, which cannot be carried out in the aggressor country. In addition, the organisation of such an evacuation cannot in any case be considered voluntary if it is carried out under conditions where the civilian population is forced to leave their places of permanent residence under physical or mental coercion.

When examining the real motives for such deportations, the following aspects should be highlighted. Preschool children are often registered with new personal data, changing their surname, name and patronymic. Unaware of the consequences of such actions, children do not object and even agree to any name offered to them. This change is designed primarily to make it almost impossible to find such a child in databases, and even more so after his or her adoption in the Russian Federation. Particular attention should be paid to the fact that older adolescents have their dates of birth changed to increase their age, which is done in order to allow them to be freely exported without their parents consent.

Facts of displacement of Ukrainian children

There may be about 150,000 Ukrainian children in Russia. This was reported by the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets rosiu-ukrainskih-ditej-moze-sagati-150-tisac.html The Independent International Commission of Inquiry into Violations in Ukraine has recognised cases of illegal transfer of 164 Ukrainian children by Russians. The children, aged 4 to 18, were taken from Donetsk, Kharkiv and Kherson regions. The Commission has identified three main cases where the Russian authorities transferred Ukrainian children to the controlled areas or to the Russian Federation. These are children who lost their parents or temporarily lost contact with them during the hostilities. Children who were separated from their parents when one of the parents was detained at filtration points. Children who were in care institutions 

Ukraine lacks international mechanisms to help return illegally taken children povertaty-z-rosii-nezakonno-vyvezenykh-ukrainskykh-ditey-zavazhaie-brak- mizhnarodnykh-mekhanizmiv/ Unfortunately, there is currently no single mechanism for the return of Ukrainian children. There are no negotiations with Russia on their return. They do not recognise these children as detainees, detained, deported or forcibly displaced.

It should be noted that the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia is a war crime. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Volodymyr Putin and the Children's Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova on suspicion of committing this crime 7493cb22c9086c6293c1ac7986d85ef6

In Russia, the adoption of Ukrainian children is presented as a patriotic act. The transfer of children to Russian families and the handing over of Russian passports is widely covered on Russian television. When Russian troops besieged the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, children fled from bombed orphanages and boarding schools. Separated from their families, they followed their neighbours or strangers west, seeking relative safety. According to interviews with children, witnesses and family members, pro-Russian forces intercepted them at checkpoints around the city. The authorities put them on buses that travelled deeper into Russian-controlled territory. As Emma Bubola writes for The New York Times, "The systematic relocation is part of Russian President Vladimir Putin's broader strategy of treating Ukraine as part of Russia and viewing his illegal invasion as a noble cause. His government has used the children - including the sick, poor and orphans - as part of a propaganda campaign that portrays Russia as a charitable saviour adoptions.html

On 18 April 2023, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted Resolution No. 339 "Some issues of protection of persons, including children, deported or forcibly displaced due to the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine", according to which a Unified Register of persons, including children, deported or forcibly displaced due to the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine was created. The Ministry of Reintegration, together with the National Information Bureau, on behalf of the Office of the President of Ukraine and with the information and analytical support of the Government of Canada's Support to Government Reforms in Ukraine, created the state information platform "Children of War" as a tool for searching for and releasing children from places of forced displacement or deportation URL:

The platform updates the latest information on children affected by the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine every day at 8 am. As of 4 October 2023, according to the resource, 19546 children are considered deported, while according to open source data provided by the Russian Federation, the number of children is 744,000 according to an independent study conducted by the Institute for the Study of War. Among the reasons for the illegal deportations under the guise of evacuation was a targeted depopulation campaign in the occupied areas of Ukraine to facilitate the re-population of Ukrainian territories by Russians and attempts to change the ethnic composition of Ukraine. At the same time, such depopulation and repopulation campaigns can be equated to deliberate ethnic cleansing and are a clear violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the study notes assessment-january-3-2023

Assistance of international organisations in the search for children

On 25 April 2023, the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution on "Cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe", which clearly states the crime of Russian aggression against Ukraine. Within the framework of the Council of Europe, it was adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly on 27 April 2023. Resolution 2495 (2023) "Deportations and forcible transfers of Ukrainian children and other civilians to the Russian Federation or to the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine: create conditions for their safe return, stop these crimes and punish those responsible

The resolution enshrines an important provision regarding the qualification of crimes committed by the Russian Federation. It is emphasised that the practice of deportations and forced displacement of Ukrainian children is a particularly serious feature of this aggression and is a violation of international humanitarian law. Their organised and systematic nature indicates that these crimes are not accidental or unplanned. They indicate an intention to destroy Ukraine and the Ukrainian identity, as well as the cultural and linguistic characteristics of its people." As a result, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe states that the forcible transfer of children from one group to another with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group is considered a crime of genocide under Article 2(e) of the 1948 Genocide Convention, which coincides with the documented evidence of deportation and forced displacement of Ukrainian children to the Russian Federation or to territories temporarily under Russian occupation (para. 10)

Further cooperation at all levels, both governmental and non-governmental, will contribute to the creation of an effective international mechanism for the search and repatriation of Ukrainian children. Since no international human rights organisation currently has access to the territory of the Russian Federation to facilitate the return of illegally deported Ukrainian children, the cooperation of national and foreign (including opposition Russian and Belarusian) NGOs is a major contribution to assisting the state in the search for and return of Ukrainian children. The ongoing creation of an international database for child tracing with the involvement of national and international organisations is one of the most important tasks facing the international community. The key provisions of such cooperation, as stated in the PACE Resolution of 27 April 2023, are the creation of a "mechanism for the identification, location and repatriation of victims to Ukraine or a safe third country"

Measures for the return of children

One of the priority measures that the state should take to return Ukrainian children to their homeland is to provide them with urgent psychological assistance and rehabilitation. Regional international mechanisms for the protection of human rights are created on the basis of international treaties of certain groups of states, usually within geographical regions. Currently, regional human rights protection mechanisms have been established in Europe (within the Council of Europe - on the basis of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1950; within the EU - on the basis of the EU founding treaties.The project aims to strengthen Ukraine's response to violence against children, including sexual exploitation and abuse, in the context of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation. The project aims to protect and promote children's rights, taking into account the special risks posed by war, for internally displaced children, forcibly displaced children, children left without parental care, and unaccompanied children, in line with Council of Europe standards. It aims to improve the effectiveness of mechanisms for creating child-friendly conditions and justice procedures, as well as to increase the capacity of various target groups of professionals working for and with children.

The project is currently being developed within the framework of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine "Resilience, Recovery and Rebuilding" (2023- 2026). The project's activities are based on the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2022-2027) "Children's Rights in Action: from Sustained Implementation to Joint Innovation", adopted by the Committee of Ministers in February 2022. The six strategic priorities include actions aimed at protecting and promoting children's rights in crisis and emergency situations, such as the one children are facing in Ukraine today. Namely, rehabilitation after forced displacement children-during-and-in-post-war-context

Restoring the physical and mental health of citizens after the war, especially children, is an important element of rebuilding the Ukrainian state. Children are the key to the future of every nation, which is why the protection of Ukrainian children has consolidated the efforts of the international community on the path to peace in Ukraine and international security in the world.