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Russian forces have relocated at least 6,000 Ukrainian children to camps since start of war, new report says

WASHINGTON — Russian forces have moved at least 6,000 Ukrainian children to camps and facilities across Russia for forced adoptions and military training, according to a new report.

The allegations detailed in the 35-page report, such as the abduction or detention of children, may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity. The allegations were detailed by the Conflict Observatory, a program supported by the U.S. State Department.

The report, entitled “Russia’s systematic program for the re-education and adoption of Ukraine’s children,” took more than a year to produce. It outlines what it calls the Kremlin’s systematic efforts to abduct children, prevent their return to Ukraine and “re-educate” them to become pro-Russia. 

About three-fourths of the camps appear to “expose children from Ukraine to Russia-centric academic, cultural, patriotic, and/or military education … with the apparent goal of integrating children from Ukraine into the Russian government’s vision of national culture, history and society,” the authors of the report wrote.

“Consider this report a gigantic Amber Alert,” Nathaniel Raymond, executive director of Yale University’s Humanitarian Research Lab, said on a call with reporters. He added that this is the most “consequential and comprehensive report” yet published on the matter.

Russia has repeatedly denied that its troops have committed war crimes or deliberately targeted civilians in attacks. The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Raymond said that Conflict Observatory researchers, in partnership with Yale’s Humanitarian Research Lab, discovered a network of at least 43 camps and facilities where Russian authorities hold Ukrainian children.

The sites span Russia’s extensive territory, as some are located in Siberia, near Ukraine’s border or approximately 13,000 miles from Alaska, according to the report.

“The primary purpose of the camps and facilities that we have identified appears to be political re-education,” Raymond said. He added that some sites are dedicated to an expedited adoption process and others are used as military training centers.

The youngest child at an adoption camp is four months old, while the youngest children at the military training camps appear to be about 14, Raymond said.

He added that additional sites in Russia are under investigation, and the number is believed to be higher than 43. He said that all levels of the Russian government are involved in the expansive program.

Earlier this month, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said that regional authorities have logged more than 65,000 Russian war crimes since Moscow invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago. Kostin said his teams have also documented more than 14,000 Ukrainian children forced into adoption in Russia.

“This is a direct policy aimed at demographic change by cutting out Ukrainian identity,” Kostin told an audience at Georgetown Law School in Washington.

“These actions are characteristics of the crime of genocide,” he added.

Read more: Russia has committed more than 65,000 war crimes in Ukraine, prosecutor general says

Last year, the Biden administration said that it suspected between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, including 260,000 children, had been detained and deported from their homes to Russia. At the time, U.S. Secretary of State Atony Blinken said the conduct may breach international humanitarian agreements and constitute war crimes.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions define international legal standards and protections for humanitarian treatment during wartime and explicitly prohibit mass forced transfers of civilians.

Blinken accused Moscow of ordering the “disappearance” of thousands of Ukrainian civilians who do not pass the dehumanizing “filtration” process of the deportation procedure.

The filtration camps, which have been previously described as large makeshift tents, are initial reception areas where deported Ukrainians are photographed, fingerprinted, stripped, forced to turn over their mobile phones, passwords as well as identification, and then interrogated and sometimes tortured by Russian authorities.

Read more: UN report details horrifying Ukrainian accounts of rape, torture and executions by Russian troops

Blinken also outlined at the time that there was “mounting” evidence of Russian forces deliberately separating Ukrainian children from their parents, abducting children from orphanages, confiscating Ukrainian passports and issuing Russian passports for what is an “apparent effort to change the demographic makeup of parts of Ukraine.”

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