Ukrainian children abducted by Russia left with psychological scars, campaigners say

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Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children is an attempt to steal the country’s future and has left the youngsters with deep psychological scars, campaigners from Ukraine said on Saturday as they called for international efforts to bring them home.

Kyiv says about 20,000 children have been taken to Russia or Russian-occupied territory without the consent of family or guardians since the war began, calling the abductions a war crime that meets the UN treaty definition of genocide.

Moscow says it has protected vulnerable children from the war zone.

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Speaking on the sidelines of an international summit in Switzerland about the war, Mykola Kuleba, the leader of a Ukrainian charity working to return the children, said “Russia is stealing our future.”

“They base their strategy on deception, indoctrination of children, and genocide of the Ukrainian nation,” Kuleba, founder and CEO of Save Ukraine, told an event in Lucerne, close to the mountain resort where world leaders were gathering.

He told the story of an 8-year-old girl who was sent to a Russian camp he said was designed to eradicate her Ukrainian identify.

“Children are forbidden to speak Ukrainian or display any Ukrainian symbols. Children are severely punished if they resist singing the Russian anthem,” he said.

The names and dates of birth of children are also routinely changed by Russian authorities, he added.

Save Ukraine has returned 373 children, including 88 orphans, Kuleba said, adding that many returnees showed signs of trauma.

He mentioned a 5-year-old boy who saw his father being beaten by occupying soldiers, which left him with nightmares and debilitating fear.

Kuleba called for an international effort to gather information about the abducted children and return them home.

In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued warrants for the arrest of President Vladimir Putin and children’s commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova on war crimes charges related to the abduction of Ukrainian children.

Russia denounced the warrants as “outrageous and unacceptable.” Lvova-Belova rejected the accusations as false.

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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was working to return the youngsters, with “a few dozen” reunited with their relatives in Ukraine, a spokesman said.

Earlier this week, the United States said it was aware of credible reports that Russia was listing abducted Ukrainian children on adoption websites.

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