Forcibly transferring children from one national group to another with the intention to destroy the group can also amount to genocide, a charge that Kateryna Rashevska, a lawyer at the Regional Center for Human Rights, a Ukrainian organization that investigates the abduction of children, said she hoped would be the next step.
Russia has carried out the deportations under the guise of rescues, medical rehabilitation initiatives and adoption programs. But the facts have been brought to light by witness accounts, reports by The New York Times and other Western outlets, the Ukrainian news media, independent investigators, the United Nations, and a host of government and rights organizations.
“They committed the crime in plain sight and expressed pride in doing it,” Stephen Rapp, a former ambassador at large who headed the Office of Global Criminal Justice in the State Department, said in an email.
The Kremlin has repeatedly used Ukrainian children as part of its campaign to bolster support for the war. When children from a group home fled the Russian bombing of Mariupol early in the war, for example, they were stopped at a Russian checkpoint. Pro-Russian news media crews rushed to the scene, witnesses said, and cameras followed the children as they were whisked deeper into Russia-held territory.
It was portrayed as a rescue operation.
“All the Russian channels showed that Ukrainians are bad,” said Oleksandr Yaroshenko, a volunteer who witnessed the incident at the checkpoint.