Russia is likely guilty of an abundance of war crimes in the past and now, but here is one that deserves more attention: the crime of abducting children on an industrial scale. By some reports, the number of Ukrainian children forcibly taken to Russia exceeds 200,000.
Let’s examine the war crime aspect of these abductions first. Next, we’ll take a look at why the number 200,000 is real. Finally, let’s explicate the likely motivation Mr. Putin may have for committing this crime.
According to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the forcible transfer of children of one group to another “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” is, by definition, a war crime. Stealing large numbers of a nation’s children, as Russia is now doing, is genocide.
The Polish-Jewish lawyer Rafal Lemkin who conceptualized the crime of genocide and coined the very word certainly thought so.
Russia is kidnapping Ukrainian children, transferring them to the Russian Federation, and indoctrinating them to see their own parents as enemies.
General Andriy Nebytov from the Kyiv Regional Police agrees that the 200,000 figure is roughly accurate, although it keeps growing. Kidnapping is a prodigiously geometrical industry.
Most of the time, the Russian forces invoke war emergency as the reason to move the children. However, it is more difficult to round up individual kids and pry them away from their families, so the Muscovites go after soft targets first.
Initially, they picked up various stray refugees, including children separated from their families, and sent them as far afield as Siberia. The Kremlin claims that this is for their own safety, of course.
In reality, the Ukrainian children are deported away from the front lines, indeed, but the narrative of “safety” is just a cover to depict Russia as a great humanitarian power, a handy propaganda trope. Most children and most families would like to stay together. Instead, they are split up and their progeny are shipped away.
Thus, the kidnapped children become hostages. Those who harken from the Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” ensure their parents’ loyalty to the Kremlin. The kids seized and deported from newly conquered territories paralyze their parents’ will to resist. At least, that is Putin’s insidious intention.
For the same reasons, the occupation authorities next focused on institutions: orphanages, schools, clubs, and so forth.
“At the beginning of the War,” General Nebytov said during a recent interview in Kyiv with one of the authors, “the Russians rounded up the children from the orphanages in the occupied areas and sent them to Russia. We have very good records from the orphanages, and the original number is real.”
Why would the caregivers at orphanages give up the children?
The answer, according to Nebytov, is the Russians made the Ukrainian children’s guardians an offer they couldn’t refuse. “Russian soldiers told the officials at the orphanages, ‘Turn over the children and they’ll be fed. If you don’t, we’ll see to it that they starve.’”
The children were duly surrendered.
It didn’t stop with the orphanages. In the last month, the Russians have “invited” 1,500 children from the Donbas area to come to Russia for games and for a rest from the stress of the war. It was supposed to be a routine holiday. Many Ukrainians, looking at Russia’s track record, are certain Putin will not allow those children to return to their families. The parents are understandably frantic.
Putin has an overwhelming motive for keeping these children in Russia. Russia is up against an existential problem because of its falling population. According to Worldometers.info, in 1991, Russia had 148 million inhabitants. In the years since, the population has declined to 146 million. Despite President Vladimir Putin’s boasts, he has failed to reverse the downward spiral. By some estimates, the population will dwindle to 136 million by 2050.
To achieve a steady-state population, a starting point is women need to bear an average of 2.1 children during their lifetimes. In Russia, it’s 1.5 children for each woman, far below replacement levels.
Further, Russia also suffers from an unusually low life expectancy rate. In the U.S., the life expectancy of a child at birth is a little over 79 years. In Russia, it’s a little lower than 73 years. Moscow needs fresh blood.
Another ominous reason for Russia’s population problem is out-migration. Since the War began, at least tens of thousands of Russians have left their homeland. Often, these are young, well-educated professionals who could be contributing to re-population.
Kidnapping Ukrainian children can be useful to Russia in its efforts at re-population. The children are ethnically similar and often speak Russian.
Incidentally, this reminds one of Hitler’s program of “Germanizing” and “Aryanizing” Polish children who were considered “racially worthy,” notably blondes with blue eyes. The Nazis kidnapped tens of thousands of them. Only a few returned to their families after the Second World War. Some are still alive and not aware of their original identity.
Quite understandably, for the Ukrainians, these actions mean not only personal heartbreak: they undermine their country’s future.
There are countless reasons to want to make sure Russia doesn’t win the Ukraine War. Among them, the Ukrainians deserve to have their children back. And the guilty need to be held accountable before an international tribunal.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at The Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC, where he holds the Kosciuszko Chair in Polish Studies and heads the Center for Intermarium Studies.
Mitzi Perdue is an anti-human trafficking advocate, a former rice farmer, past president of the 40,000-member American Agri-Women and a US Delegate to the United Nations Decade on Women Conference in Nairobi.
A version of this article was published by Newsmax.