Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children likely deported by Russia, OSCE says

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children have probably been deported by Russia to Moscow-controlled areas in Ukraine or to Russia itself, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported on Thursday. "It seems that there is a plan to assimilate them en masse," said Veronika Bilkova, a professor at Prague's Faculty of Law.

It is difficult to determine exactly how many children have been deported because the policy began after the annexation of Crimea in 2015. "According to the lowest estimates we could find, the number is around 20,000," she said. "But Russian and Ukrainian sources suggest figures 10 times higher or even more."

The 82-page OSCE report cites frequent violations of children's rights with a systematic pattern of integrating them into Russian families instead of helping them find relatives. Such a practice "may constitute a crime against humanity", the report concludes.

"It seems that there is a plan to assimilate them en masse"

Russia claims to protect "refugee" children, but according to the document's authors, it has taken "legal and political measures ... to promote the acquisition of Russian citizenship and their placement in foster families". The transferred young Ukrainians are also "exposed to a pro-Russian information campaign aimed at re-educating them. They are also subjected to military training".

The report is based on written sources, around 20 interviews and a visit to Kyiv in April. Russia has refused to cooperate.

The 57-member OSCE was established in 1975 to promote relations between the East and West, but its operations have been hampered in recent months as Moscow has blocked several key decisions.


A symbolic action in Brussels, with teddy bears and toys representing the thousands of abducted Ukrainian children © BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

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