During a year of Russian aggression, we have witnessed countless cases of cruelty and atrocities. They have become a part of our everyday news feed, part of our lives. Despite everything, Ukrainians have been bravely undergoing this long and challenging period of time. Unfortunately, the consequences of Russia’s irresponsible behavior directly and negatively impact our children, both physically and psychologically. Broken destinies, lost parents, dead brothers and sisters. It leaves a huge scar and unbearable pain in our hearts.
And we would not be wrong if we said that today Russia is carrying out the world’s largest child abduction operation in contemporary history.
According to data from official sources, the Russian forces may have forcibly relocated about 16,000 Ukrainian children from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine to Russia. Unofficial data informs us of more than 700,000 illegally transferred kids. Some children, whose parents died as a result of Russia’s armed aggression, have been fostered by new families and even adopted. The Russian authorities do everything they can to separate children, to place them in completely different and distant regions, leaving them only one option — to accept their fate and adapt. This is a part of the Russia-initiated process of assimilating young Ukrainians, aimed at making them forget their mother tongue, nationality, identity and even beloved motherland.
What we see now is nothing less than Russia striving to steal the future of Ukraine.
The Russian campaign of illegal child relocation and their subsequent adoption is in blatant violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989. According to Article 8, states are required “to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.”
Moreover, the forcible transfer of children falls within the definition of genocide enshrined in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, thus making the crimes of Russians even more violent.
What we see now is nothing less than Russia striving to steal the future of Ukraine, depriving it of the possibility to raise new generations of Ukrainians who will continue building our country with all standards of prosperity and success. The deportation, reeducation and forcible adoption of children are key elements of the Kremlin’s tireless efforts to reject the idea of the existence of Ukrainian identity, history and culture.
The international community must pay full attention to this aspect of Russia’s illegal actions that target the most vulnerable social group. We have to provide Ukrainian children with all the protections needed and they must be returned home as soon as possible. Russia’s crimes must be subject to prosecution by international law, and all those complicit must be brought to justice.
We cannot spare any effort when it comes to children because, if we do not put an end to this, it could possibly threaten any other child in any other country. Let us unite our efforts in shaping a safe future for generations to come.
• Anatolii Petrenko is Ukraine’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.