Ukriane’s Children

Mariupol Theatre in Ukraine after air assault on 16 March 2022

Lara Kajs | 9 October 2023 |

For 592 days, the people of Ukraine have withstood some of the most brutal attacks in its history as a sovereign country. There have been air assaults against maternity hospitals, a theatre that served, like so many other buildings, as a bomb shelter, and a prison the Russians used for holding Ukrainian POWs. And while the adults continue to defend their families, and fend off the assaults, Ukraine’s children have been subject to inescapable horror … crimes no child should ever have to face. Worse still… generations of children – Ukraine’s future – are being stolen.

Forced Deportations

International law as it pertains to children’s rights is unambiguous. Violations against children during conflict are considered war crimes. It is absolutely forbidden to forcibly transfer children in wartime to another country; these are grave violations of international humanitarian law. Per the Genocide Convention, the forceful removal of Ukraine’s children to Russia falls into the categories of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.

These children have been forced to leave their home country, to change their national identity, to forget their native language and culture, and forced to become “Russian.” They have been deported for the intended purpose of being adopted by Russian families. By definition, this is one of the tenets of genocide.

Ukrainian officials have been able to verify at least 20,000 children deported to Russia, but they insist the official number is much higher. The US noted that approximately 260,000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly transferred. Perhaps the most shocking count came from the Russian government, which indicated that it transported more than 700,000 children to the Russian Federation.

On 17 March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and Maria Lvova-Belova, Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights, for the unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia – a war crime. And there is no statute of limitations for war crimes.

Many egregious acts have occurred during the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine, but to remove tens of thousands of children to train them to forget their native language, and to hate their home country, is nothing short of abhorrent. Ukraine’s children are the world’s children, and we must not lose a single child. If we believe that all children deserve to live free and be children, then we must stand for them. Ukrainian children must be repatriated and returned.

Attacks on Civilians

On 16 March 2022, about a month into the invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces bombed the Donetsk Academic Regional Theater in Mariupol. The theatre was being used as an air raid shelter. A few days before the airstrike hit the theatre, it hit a maternity hospital. Several surviving pregnant women were moved from the maternity hospital to the theater, where they were killed in the attack. Both of these events are war crimes.

The number of bodies that remain under the collapsed theatre is not known. There were about 1,200 men, women, children, and their pets, in the theater the day of the airstrike. Survivors saw maybe 200 people escape the airstrike. That leaves some 1,000 people. The site is off-limits to investigators, so determining an accurate count at this time is impossible.

What is known for certain is that the theatre attack was deliberate. The Russian forces set out to destroy Mariupol, and like the maternity hospital, the prison in Molodizhne, Olenivka, and so many others, they are trying to cover up and hide their crimes.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the deportation of the children, attacks on civilian infrastructure – all of it – is in clear violation of the UN Charter and international humanitarian law. More than eight million Ukrainians have crossed a country border into neighboring countries, fleeing the conflict and violence. Nearly half of Ukraine’s population – some 18 million people need humanitarian assistance of some sort or protection.

Thousands have been killed and injured. Tens of thousands of civilian lives have been destroyed. Livelihoods have been decimated. A generation of Ukraine’s children are traumatized. Families have been separated. Communities have been torn apart. Ukraine’s economy is devastated. Vast areas of farmlands have been turned into dangerous minefields.

UN investigators have documented evidence of human rights violations including conflict-related sexual violence, arbitrary detentions, and summary executions, committed by the Russian Federation. The bombardments are also violating the agreements with UN membership standing.

The conflict is aggravating geopolitical tensions, threatening regional stability, and creating deep divisions in an increasingly diverse world. And Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling is increasing the nuclear threat, creating a culture of fear and terror. And all of this, with impunity.

Held Hostage

The UN has been clear in condemning the war. The General Assembly overwhelmingly approved that Russia leave Ukraine and rejected Russia’s efforts to further annex Ukraine’s territory. Repeatedly calling for sustainable peace in Ukraine, the UNGA asserted that Russia’s invasion has been a constant assault against civilians, infrastructure, and services, including health and education facilities – and the forcible deportation of Ukraine’s children, its future is an atrocity crime.

One of the many purposes of the Security Council is to encourage negotiations to resolve issues and international threats. However, by its own device, it is being held hostage. Security Council decisions pass with a majority of 9 in 15 Council members’ votes. The exception is when one of the five permanent members (US, UK, France, China, and Russia) exercises its veto power, rejecting the decision.

The impotency of the Security Council rests in Russia’s veto privilege. But the veto was never intended to be used to cover illegal invasions, illegal annexations, stealing children, and war crimes. Russia is using its position as a permanent Security Council member, to act with impunity. The writ of the law must not be diminished. It must not be swept away because of the status or position of the perpetrator.

Abuse of the veto power to obstruct the decisions of the UN Security Council on the actions that Russia has committed, cannot be tolerated. Russia’s access to the veto privilege should be suspended. As long as it is going to blatantly violate multiple international laws, even to the level of committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, it should not be able to give itself a pass.

Photo Credit: Donetsk People’s Republic Emergency Situations Ministry employees clear rubble at the side of the damaged Mariupol Theatre 12 May 2022. “Amid Ukraine War, seeking moments of normalcy by Manhhai. Licensed under CC by 2.0