Minister Wopke Hoekstra (Foreign Affairs) receives her German colleague Annalena Baerbock on Monday. Among other things, they discuss Russia’s abduction and forced adoption of thousands of Ukrainian children. It is important that this issue remains under the West’s attention, experts tell NU.nl.
Sinds de start van de Russische invasie van Oekraïne zijn er zeker duizenden Oekraïense kinderen ontvoerd en naar Rusland gebracht. Volgens het Oekraïense onderzoeksplatform Children of War lopen de schattingen uiteen van een kleine 14.000 kinderen tot meer dan 700.000.
Door de chaos van oorlog is het onmogelijk om het precieze aantal geroofde kinderen te bepalen. Maar dát het gebeurt, is zeker. Dat zegt ook de Verenigde Naties.
“Het is in de eerste plaats een etnische zuivering, maar ook een vorm van propaganda”, zegt Hella Rottenberg van het journalistieke platform Raam op Rusland. “De Russen beweren dat zij kinderen weghalen uit de oorlog die Oekraïne heeft uitgelokt. De kinderen worden beschermd tegen het zogenaamde nazi-regime in Kyiv.”
Hans van Koningsbrugge, directeur van het Nederland-Rusland Centrum, zegt over deze Russische denkwijze: “Het Kremlin ontkent het bestaansrecht van Oekraïne. Dat betekent dat de Oekraïense identiteit een bedreiging is voor wat zij als Russische kinderen zien. Dat is natuurlijk kletspraat, maar het geeft aan hoezeer de elite in het Kremlin van het pad af is.”
Schattingen van het aantal door Rusland uit Oekraïne ontvoerde kinderen
Children separated from parents and stolen from orphanages
The Ukrainian children are mainly abducted from the four regions illegally annexed by Russia at the end of September: Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. “Russia sees those areas as Russian. So if you remove children from there, it is actually a good deed. That way it is justified,” explains Van Koningsbrugge.
Before the regions were illegally taken over by Russia, they were heavily bombed by Russian troops. “The only escape routes that weren’t bombed led to Russia,” says Rottenburg.
“People had the choice to go to Russia or remain in danger. The escape routes often went through special filter camps. Children were separated from their parents and sent to Russia alone.”
Children are also brought to Russia from Ukrainian orphanages. Rottenberg and Van Koningsbrugge both tell of several cases of orphanages where the children were all abducted to Russia by the Russian troops.
Russia is trying to erase the Ukrainian identity
Once the children are in Russia, they are forcibly adopted by Russian parents or placed in orphanages. They also have to go to Russian schools. In this way, according to Rottenberg and Van Koningsbrugge, their Ukrainian identity is slowly being “erased”.
“The children must learn Russian and are no longer allowed to speak Ukrainian. They are only allowed to read Russian literature and only learn about Russian culture and Russian heroes. In short, they are introduced to Russian history, including the war. It is pure indoctrination,” says Rottenberg.
The investigative journalist sees that Russia also makes sure that the children get a Russian passport more quickly. “The longer the children are in Russia, the harder it is to undo their brainwashing and restore their origins and history. Children are not meant to ever go back to Ukraine, they will be turned into Russians.”
According to Van Koningsbrugge, Russia is waging war in every possible way to make Ukraine’s survival impossible. “The children come to Russian schools with teaching materials approved by the Kremlin. They are brainwashed in that system. We don’t know yet if it will be permanent. But I don’t think the Russians have thought about that either. The only reason from the belief that Ukrainian identity should not exist.”
Picking up children almost impossible
Due to Russia’s systematic approach, it is virtually impossible to return abducted children to Ukraine. Rottenberg is in contact with organizations in Ukraine that are trying to find a place to stay.
“Parents are also looking for their children themselves. And lawyers are also trying to find out where the children have gone. Sometimes it is possible to find the children and even get them back. But in most cases it is very difficult.”
Van Koningsbrugge sees that Russia is doing everything it can to make the search for Ukrainian parents and organizations difficult. “There is also normal censorship in those areas. What is coming out now is already special. After the war, it will probably turn out that the extent is much greater than we already fear.”
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Since July 1, 2022, Dmytro Lubinets has been the Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights.
West is virtually powerless
Both experts agree that the Russian child abduction is an agenda item in the conversation between Hoekstra and Baerbock. In this way, the topic continues to receive attention, despite the powerless position of the West. For example, the UN has been on the sidelines since the beginning of the war. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and can veto resolutions.
“The most important thing is therefore not to forget the abduction of Ukrainian children and to continue to draw attention to it. The topic must remain on the table, and you do that by having it judged at a high level,” says Rottenberg.
Both experts believe that the kidnapping, detention and brainwashing of Ukrainian children is another clear example of the Russians’ war crimes. According to them, Western countries and organizations should also officially recognize and state this.
Rottenberg hopes that Hoekstra and Baerbock will also agree to instruct their ambassadors in Moscow to apply pressure and have active investigations. “And the EU also has an embassy in Russia. These results can be collected so that action can be taken.”
“We must strongly condemn this, remember it and promise that there will come a time when Russia will be held accountable for this,” Van Koningsbrugge agrees. “In any case, it will give Russia’s reputation a new dent. The whole EU should follow the same line in this. And the Netherlands and Germany can certainly take the lead in this.”