KYIV, Ukraine - Russia's abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children since its invasion of the country was so well documented and terrifying that when Russian forces prepared to withdraw from the southern city of Kherson last fall, doctors from a city hospital rushed to
hide the babies
and falsify their records.
When the Russian soldiers arrived, staff at the Kherson Regional Hospital said the babies were too critical to be moved, Olha Pilyarska, head of the neonatal anesthesiology department, recalled in an interview Saturday.
Smoke and dust hang in the air seconds after a Russian shell hit near the highway in a suburb of Kherson, Ukraine. Ivor Prickett/The New York Times)
"They put lung ventilation
near all the children," he explained.
The efforts saved 14 babies from being swept up in a campaign that has systematically moved thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia to be resettled in foster families and put on the path to becoming Russian citizens.
International Criminal Court
issued an arrest warrant for Russian President
on Friday for the forced deportation of children, it was a powerful acknowledgment of actions that have not only been carried out in full view, but which continue today.
The arrest warrant adds Putin's name to a well-known list of despots and dictators accused of humanity's worst atrocities.
But this case is unusual in that the charges were not announced years after the abuses began, but effectively in real time.
The judges in The Hague cited the need for
because the deportations "are allegedly ongoing."
Although the court has issued swift arrest warrants before - against Libya's
, for example - war crimes investigations often take years, meaning charges are not announced until long after the investigations take place. atrocities.
was indicted in 2009 for war crimes beginning in 2003.
Destroyed civilian and military vehicles on a road leading out of the heavily destroyed town of Oleksandrivka, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. The International Criminal Court's arrest warrant against President Vladimir Putin highlights a practice the Kremlin He has not hidden and says that he will continue.
(Nicole Tung/The New York Times)
But the Russian authorities, far from concealing the deportations, have
paraded the children in Red Square
and in lavish concerts to celebrate the war.
They have also pointed out that
are on the way.
Across southern Ukraine, local Russian leaders are issuing new "evacuation orders" ahead of an expected Ukrainian military offensive this spring.
These orders have often been the prelude to an increase in deportations.
About a month ago, Russian forces closed all roads leading from the occupied areas to the rest of Ukraine, making it extremely difficult for people to flee.
Now the only open roads lead into occupied territory or into Russia.
"The Russians are deporting more and more people from the temporarily occupied Zaporizhzhia and Kherson districts," the Ukrainian National Center of Resistance, the government agency monitoring events in occupied Ukraine, said on Friday, noting public statements by the local Russian authorities.
After more than a year of a war that has turned into a bloody competition for resistance, Ukrainian leaders and allies face wavering -- though still strong -- support for continuing to supply Ukraine with military hardware.
Ukrainian officials said the arrest warrant highlighted the moral imperative of the conflict.
"World leaders will think twice before shaking hands or sitting down with Putin at the negotiating table," Andriy Kostin, Ukraine's chief prosecutor, said of the arrest warrant.
"It is another clear signal to the world that the Russian regime is criminal."
Russia, which like the United States is not a party to the international court, dismissed the arrest warrant as meaningless.
Its leaders have made it clear that they intend to
children to Russia in what they have called an act of humanitarian compassion.
The court in The Hague also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, the Kremlin's commissioner for children's rights, who is the public face of the deportation programme.
You have spoken with pride of organizing a large-scale system to get children out of Ukraine.
After the arrest warrant, he promised to
Putin, in a televised meeting with Lvova-Belova last month, spoke of the job approvingly.
"The number of applications from our citizens for the adoption of children from the Donetsk and Lugansk republics and the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions is also increasing," he said.
The magnitude of the deportations in Ukraine over the past year is something that has not been seen in Europe for generations.
The United Nations estimates that 2.9 million Ukrainians have moved to Russia since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion, but it is impossible to quantify how many have left of their own free will and how many have been forced.
Some 700,000 children are included in that number, according to Russians and Ukrainians, and most are believed to be with their families.
The exact number of children separated from their parents or orphaned is unknown.
Russia has recognized the transfer of 2,000 children without guardians;
Ukrainian authorities say they have confirmed 16,000 cases, although some of them could be with a relative.
"The actual and full number of deportees may be much higher," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared on Friday after the Hague announcement.
The court has identified "at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and childcare centers," said Karim Khan, the court's chief prosecutor.
He claimed that these deportations, carried out with the intent to permanently remove the children from their own country, constituted a violation of the
and amounted to war crimes.
The Hague Court acted with unusual speed in this case.
It has come under intense scrutiny since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, when 43 countries - a third of the tribunal's members - almost immediately demanded that it intervene.
Key donors, including the European Union, have sent money and dozens of prosecutors to streamline what is often seen as a slow bureaucracy.
And the court's investigators, who are often frustrated by
received full cooperation from the Ukrainian authorities.
The forcible transfer of children from one national group to another with the intent to destroy it can also amount to genocide, a charge that Kateryna Rashevska, a lawyer with the Regional Center for Human Rights, a Ukrainian organization that investigates child abductions, said she hoped was the next step.
Russia has carried out the deportations under the guise of ransoms, medical rehabilitation initiatives and adoption programs.
But the facts have come to light thanks to eyewitness accounts, reports from The New York Times and other Western media, the Ukrainian media, independent investigators, the United Nations, and a multitude of government and rights organizations. .
"They committed the
crime in full view
and were proud of it," Stephen Rapp, a former ambassador-at-large who headed the State Department's Office of Global Criminal Justice, said by email.
The Kremlin has repeatedly used Ukrainian children as part of its campaign to bolster support for the war.
For example, when children from a foster home fled Russian bombing of Mariupol early in the war, they were stopped at a Russian checkpoint.
According to witnesses, the pro-Russian media rushed to the scene and cameras followed the children as they entered Russian territory.
It was presented as a
"All Russian channels showed that Ukrainians are bad," said Oleksandr Yaroshenko, a volunteer who witnessed the incident at the checkpoint.
, local officials and witnesses described the orchestrated nature of the Russian kidnappings.
Shortly after Russian forces seized the city, they worked with local partners to compile lists of children in hospitals, orphanages and schools, according to Ukrainian prosecutors and witnesses.
Security camera footage showed
armed Russian soldiers
entering an orphanage in October, and local officials said 50 children had been taken from the facility.
Some of them, according to Kherson residents, later paraded before the cameras of Russian state media.
The deportations have echoes of one of the most sinister chapters in Russian history, when Stalin used the deportations to consolidate control of the Kremlin.
From 1936 to 1952, at least
3 million people
were driven from their homes along the western borders of the Soviet Union and other regions, and dumped thousands of miles away in Siberia and Central Asia, according to agency estimates. of refugees from the United Nations.
The Kremlin referred to these people euphemistically as "
At the Kherson neonatal hospital, staff managed to save most of the children, but two were taken away, said Inna Kholodnyak, the hospital's director.
"Some children from Kherson are still in Crimea.
Sometimes we can see them in the Russian media," he said by phone from the hospital, which has been bombed in recent days.
"The others just disappeared, and we don't know anything about them."
c.2023 The New York Times Company
c.2023 The New York Times Company
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