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Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
House of Commons / Chambre des communes
Sous-comité des droits internationaux de la personne du Comité permanent des affaires étrangères et du développement international

For immediate release


Statement: Forced Displacement of Ukrainian Children by Russia

Ottawa, December 1, 2023 -

Since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, around 19,000 Ukrainian children, from toddlers to adolescents, have been illegally transferred to Russian-occupied territories and to mainland Russia. In the nearly two years following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, only 386 children have been successfully repatriated to Ukraine. The transfer of children from Ukraine is part of a systematic plan by Russia, involving placing these children in special camps for indoctrination, in foster homes with Russian parents, or arranging for them to be officially adopted into Russian families.

Over the course of three meetings, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (the Subcommittee) addressed this critical issue, hearing from non-governmental organizations working in Ukraine to retrieve children, an academic research unit, and the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. The Subcommittee also received firsthand accounts from Ukrainian children and parents who endured these hardships and bravely shared their experiences. Testimony revealed acts by Russia consistent with what the International Criminal Court is investigating as war crimes and aligned with the legal definition of genocide, underscoring the urgent need to protect vulnerable groups in conflict zones.

On 17 March 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, in relation to the transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia and Russian-controlled territories. Witnesses informed the Subcommittee that these transfers of children are occurring in several ways.

Andriy Kostin, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, told the Subcommittee that Russian authorities initially gather Ukrainian children under the pretense of evacuation for supposed security reasons, conducting separate evacuations for children and adults. Children are transported to Russian border areas, then sent to various childcare institutions across Russia. Next, adoption processes and citizenship changes are initiated, integrating the children into Russian families. Mr. Kostin stressed that Russian authorities make no efforts to reunite these children with their families or facilitate their return.

The Subcommittee also heard that children may also be transferred to Russian-occupied areas or to mainland Russia to attend so-called recreation camps, some as far as Siberia and the East Pacific Coast. While some children are eventually permitted to return home, many are kept at the facilities, which justify retaining them due to alleged safety concerns, particularly when their parents are in areas recently retaken by Ukrainian forces. The Humanitarian Research Lab at the Yale School of Public Health has discovered a network of 43 re-education camps and recently revealed the involvement of Belarus, where over 2,400 Ukrainian children are being held in 13 Belarusian facilities.

In order to suppress their Ukrainian identity, children in the camps undergo re-education into Russian culture and ideology. Their phones are confiscated, communication with their families is often banned, and they are not allowed to speak Ukrainian. Additionally, the camps frequently incorporate political indoctrination and military training; for instance, a camp in Chechnya teaches Ukrainian children how to handle firearms and operate military vehicles.

Olga Aivazovska, from the NGO International Center for Ukrainian Victory, painted a stark picture of the result of the indoctrination since 2014:

The separation of children from their families and the re-education for those who were in occupied territories for many years—from 2014—are forming the potential tool for the continuation of this war of Ukrainians against Ukrainians. Try to just imagine a boy who was only 10 years of age when Donetsk was occupied and who suffered under the Russian propaganda for 10 years, and now this boy has taken up arms and is fighting against Ukrainian soldiers. This is the best human capital for the Russian army, because Russia is willing to continue this war for years.

Ms. Aivazovska further explained that recent changes to Russian law have made it easier for Ukrainian minors to obtain Russian citizenship, either automatically or through their guardians or care institutions. As new Russian citizens, they are not allowed to renounce their citizenship until they have fulfilled all obligations to the Russian Federation, including mandatory military service for men aged 18-30.

To better understand the personal toll of these actions, the Subcommittee heard directly from those most affected: children and their parents. Their stories offered a deeply moving perspective of the reality of the situation, demonstrating the children’s bravery, their parents’ dedication, and the urgent need for international action to address the crisis. The Subcommittee agrees with Prosecutor General Kostin’s statement, “It’s very important for children to take their part in pursuing justice and be at the table. If they’re ready, their voices as victims and witnesses of war crimes is extremely important.” The Subcommittee was honoured to give these witnesses a space to share their experiences:

Tetiana Bodak’s teenage son, Vladyslav Rudenko, was taken to a camp in Lazurne, in the occupied Kherson region, against his will and without her knowledge. When she arrived to retrieve him, she was interrogated and detained for 24 hours, then made to wear a hood while escorted by armed officials to meet her son. They were permitted to leave together only after they filmed a video making false claims about the organization Save Ukraine and in support of Russia.

Anastasiia Motychak, 16, attended a camp in Crimea with the permission of her parents, so she could escape daily shelling in her hometown. When she was kept at the camp longer than originally agreed, her mother travelled 15 days through Poland, Belarus, and Moscow to retrieve her.

Yevhen Mezhevoi was separated from his three young children by Russian filtration at a military checkpoint. His children were bussed to a location unknown to him, while he was taken to several detention centres. After being detained for two months in an overcrowded cell without access to toilet facilities, he was released and returned on foot to his home in Donetsk. He travelled to Russia to be reunited with his children through the efforts of Save Ukraine.

Denys Berezhnyi, now 18, was taken against his will to a Russian camp from his parents’ home by the Russian military during the occupation of Kherson. While at the camp, Denys was denied a restock of his insulin, leading to his ultimate admission to an intensive care unit.

Kseniia Koldin, now 19, spent nine months in Russia, along with her younger brother. She says, “I know that my brother, who was 12 years old, was more susceptible to the psychological pressure that was placed on him… if the Russians know there is family back in Ukraine, they place an even bigger psychological pressure on them to prevent them from thinking about going back to Ukraine.”

The Subcommittee was deeply moved by the emotional testimony of the witnesses, particularly the children’s descriptions of relief upon their return to Ukraine.

Witnesses told the Subcommittee that Russia’s actions involving Ukrainian children are tactical and systematic. The Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine highlighted that under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), the forcible transfer and deportation of protected persons from occupied territories are categorically forbidden, regardless of the reasons. This violation forms the basis for the ICC's arrest warrants for President Putin and Ms. Lvova-Belova. Russia’s failure to promptly register displaced children and its non-cooperation with international organizations, coupled with the concealment of children, represent clear breaches of IHL.

Witnesses also expressed concerns that Russia’s actions, particularly the systematic and forcible transfer of Ukrainian children, align with elements of the crime of genocide as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Rome Statute of the ICC. Ms. Aivazovska emphasized that the transfers of Ukrainian children include re-education and the destruction of the children’s Ukrainian identity and that “these activities have a direct connection with genocide.” Furthermore, Mr. Kostin pointed to the systematic nature of Russia’s actions as “explicit evidence that the genocidal intent of the Russian federation to erase, eliminate Ukraine as a nation, is in fact present.”

Mr. Kostin further emphasized Canada’s significant role as a co-lead of the fourth point of Ukraine’s Peace Formula, focusing on the “Release of Prisoners and Deported Persons.” He also noted Canada’s leadership in forming an international coalition dedicated to facilitating the return of Ukrainian children deported by Russia. Canada has imposed sanctions on individuals implicated in the forced transfer of Ukrainian children, including Ms. Lvova-Belova, and has opened national investigations with regards to war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Still, witnesses called for more to be done. The Subcommittee heard the following calls to action:

  • The appointment of a high-level focal point within Global Affairs Canada to spearhead coordination of Canada’s efforts with allies.
  • The continued cooperation of Canadian law enforcement and national security agencies with the Ukrainian government for information sharing and the creation of common data systems for child identification and repatriation.
  • The creation of a centralized tracking and information management system to ensure the whereabouts, guardianship status and well-being of each individual child and to support the investigation and prosecution of Russia’s crimes.
  • Further support for NGOs working in Ukraine to locate and return children to their families and to provide mental health supports.
  • The use of sanctions against lower and mid-level Russian officials, particularly those managing local camp programs, emphasizing that involvement in the transfer of children constitutes war crimes, and that the defense of merely following orders is not justifiable.
  • Addressing the gap in IHL to develop adequate procedures and mechanisms for the repatriation of these children to their families and home countries, a critical area in need of urgent attention and resolution.
  • Leverage all of Canada’s diplomatic might to persuade other members of the international community that have not yet condemned these alleged war crimes, that are the subject of indictments by the ICC, to denounce these heinous crimes and contribute to collective efforts to assist these children by facilitating their return home.

Several witnesses, including the children who testified, underscored the need to raise global awareness about the plight of Ukrainian children affected by the conflict. The Subcommittee concurs with Nathaniel Raymond from the Humanitarian Research Lab, who pointed out that not effectively recovering the children involved would permanently undermine the broader significance of the special protection of children in armed conflict: “That's what’s at stake here. It’s not just Ukraine’s kids; it’s all kids in war.”

The Subcommittee recommends that the above calls to action be implemented, that Canada reaffirm that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine through the abduction of children and other crimes, and that Canada take all steps possible to support a complete Ukrainian victory and to prevent more children from becoming victims of this illegal invasion.

The Subcommittee thanks the witnesses for their valuable contributions, particularly those who joined us directly from Ukraine. Your bravery is truly inspirational. The Subcommittee also wishes to express its gratitude to the NGOs who appeared during the study for their crucial work on the ground in Ukraine. The Subcommittee stands in solidarity with you and the people of Ukraine.

For more information, please contact:
Patrick Williams, Clerk of the subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
Tel: 613-992-9672