Why is Russia kidnapping Ukrainian children?

The Ukrainian government-run project Children of War reports that at least 19,546 unaccompanied Ukrainian children have been displaced since February 2022 Credit: AP

Words by ITV News Producer Sophia Ankel

Since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, Russia has been accused of deporting or displacing thousands of children.

The children, who are seized from schools, orphanages and private homes, are allegedly brought to Russia or Russian-held territories without their consent.

The mass abductions has led prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants in March 2023 for President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova.

Russia, which does not recognise the court's authority, called the move meaningless and opened its own criminal cases against ICC prosecutors and judges.

Russia claims the children do not have parents or guardians to look after them. Its state media portrays their so-called adoption as an act of generosity that gives new homes and medical resources.

While officials regularly announce the arrival of Ukrainian orphans in Russian military planes, they do not give official numbers on how many children it deports.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government-run project Children of War reports that at least 19,546 unaccompanied Ukrainian children have been displaced since February 2022.

Among the children was Sofia*, a 14-year-old girl from Kherson who was seized by Russians in the first days of the full-scale invasion while staying at her grandmother's house in March 2022.

Sofia, who did not want to reveal her full name, told ITV News that she was deported to Anapa, Russia, alongside a group of other children where she was enrolled in a local Russian school and was subjected to alleged bullying.

"We were filmed without consent, and the teacher did not care. I was called racist names by Russian students, and punished after shouting 'Glory to Ukraine' in the classroom," she said. ITV News is not able to independently verify her claims.

The teenager was eventually rescued by the human rights initiative Save Ukraine after her mother contacted the organisation.

The organisation is among many groups trying to help bring as many children back as possible.

Olga Yerokhina, who works for Save Ukraine, told ITV News that children who have been rescued from the camps describe "being forbidden to speak Ukrainian, being forced to listen to the Russian national anthem , and being lied to and told their parents had abandoned them."

Some of them end up being placed for adoption in Russia, where the process has been expedited to rush the stolen children through the system, she added.

Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, said the alleged abductions were part of its “hybrid invasion” of the country.

Children taken or kept by Russia were “subject to an extraordinary, relentless range of brainwashing,” Simmons said, which “creates a psychological barrier between the kids and their parents”.

Simmons said: “We know that there are children who come back from some of those engagements thinking that fighting Ukraine is the right thing to do.”

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