Putin Arrest Warrant Shines Light on Deportation of Ukraine’s Children

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The International Criminal Court’s apprehension warrant for President Vladimir V. Putin highlights a signifier that the Kremlin has not concealed and says volition continue.

A representation   of Vladimir Putin successful  a framework  with breached  glass.
A representation of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia successful a smashed framework precocious past twelvemonth extracurricular a constabulary situation successful Kherson that Russian forces utilized to clasp and torture Ukrainian prisoners.Credit...Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Marc SantoraEmma Bubola

By Marc Santora and Emma Bubola

Marc Santora has been covering the warfare from Ukraine since it began. Emma Bubola has been investigating the deportation of Ukrainian children since aboriginal past year.

March 18, 2023Updated 12:59 p.m. ET

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia’s abduction and deportation of Ukraine’s children since its penetration of the state was truthful well-documented and terrifying that erstwhile Russian forces prepared to retreat from the confederate metropolis of Kherson past fall, doctors astatine a infirmary determination hurriedly hid babies and falsified their records.

When Russian soldiers arrived, the unit astatine Kherson Regional Hospital said the infants were excessively critically sick to move, Olha Pilyarska, the caput of its neonatal anesthesiology department, recalled successful an interrogation connected Saturday.

“They enactment lung ventilation devices adjacent each the children,” she said.

The efforts saved 14 babies from being swept up successful a run that has systematically transferred thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia to beryllium resettled successful foster families and enactment connected way to go Russian citizens. When the International Criminal Court issued an apprehension warrant for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia connected Friday implicit the forcible deportation of children, it was a almighty designation of actions that person not lone been carried retired successful afloat nationalist view, but proceed today.

The apprehension warrant adds Mr. Putin’s sanction to a notorious database of despots and dictators accused of humanity’s worst atrocities. But this lawsuit is antithetic successful that the charges were announced not years aft the abuses began, but efficaciously successful existent time. The judges astatine The Hague cited the request for urgent enactment due to the fact that the deportations are “allegedly ongoing.”


Hospital workers caring for orphaned children astatine a Kherson hospital’s maternity ward successful November.Credit...Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

Although the tribunal has issued apprehension warrants rapidly earlier — against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, for illustration — warfare crimes investigations often instrumentality years, meaning that charges are not announced until agelong aft atrocities occur. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan was charged successful 2009 with warfare crimes that began successful 2003.

But the Russian authorities, acold from disguising the deportations, person enactment the children connected show successful Red Square photo-ops and astatine lavish concerts celebrating the war. They person besides signaled that much deportations are connected the way.

Across confederate Ukraine, section Russian proxy leaders are issuing caller “evacuation orders” earlier an expected Ukrainian subject violative this spring. Such orders person often been a prelude to stepped-up deportations. And astir a period ago, Russian forces closed each roads starring from occupied areas into the remainder of Ukraine, making it overmuch harder for radical to escape. Now, the lone unfastened roads caput deeper into occupied territory oregon into Russia.

“Russians are deporting much and much radical from the temporarily occupied districts of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson,” the Ukrainian National Resistance Center, the authorities bureau that monitors events successful occupied Ukraine, said connected Friday, noting nationalist statements by the section Russian authorities.


Smoke and particulate wafting successful the aerial seconds aft a Russian ammunition landed adjacent a roadworthy successful a suburb of Kherson successful February.Credit...Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

More than a twelvemonth into a warfare that has turned into a bloody endurance contest, Ukrainian and allied leaders are contending with wavering — though inactive beardown — enactment for continuing to proviso Ukraine with subject equipment. Ukrainian officials said the apprehension warrant highlighted the motivation imperative of the conflict.

“World leaders volition deliberation doubly earlier shaking his manus oregon sitting with Putin astatine the negotiating table,” Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s main prosecutor, said of the apprehension warrant. “It’s different wide awesome to the satellite that the Russian authorities is criminal.”

Russia, which similar the United States is not a enactment to the planetary court, dismissed the warrant arsenic meaningless. Its leaders person made wide that they mean to proceed deporting children to Russia successful what they person billed arsenic an enactment of humanitarian compassion.

The tribunal successful The Hague besides issued an apprehension warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, the Kremlin’s commissioner for children’s rights, who is the nationalist look of the deportation program. She has spoken proudly astir organizing a large-scale strategy for shuttling children retired of Ukraine. After the apprehension warrant, she vowed “to proceed to work.”

Mr. Putin, successful a televised gathering with Ms. Lvova-Belova past month, noted the enactment approvingly. “The fig of applications from our citizens regarding the adoption of children from the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, from the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions is besides growing,” helium said.

The standard of the deportations successful Ukraine implicit the past twelvemonth is thing not witnessed successful Europe successful generations.


Mr. Putin gathering with Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, adjacent Moscow past month.Credit...Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik, via Reuters

The United Nations estimates that 2.9 cardinal Ukrainians person moved to Russia since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion, but it is intolerable to quantify however galore mightiness person gone willingly and however galore were forced. That fig includes astir 700,000 children, according to some Russians and Ukrainians, and astir are believed to beryllium with their families.

The nonstop fig of children separated from their parents oregon orphaned is not known. Russia has acknowledged transferring 2,000 children without guardians; Ukrainian officials say they person confirmed 16,000 cases, though immoderate of them mightiness beryllium with a relative.

“The real, afloat fig of deportees whitethorn beryllium overmuch higher,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said successful a connection connected Friday aft the announcement by The Hague.

The tribunal has identified “at slightest hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children’s attraction homes,” said Karim Khan, the court’s main prosecutor. He said these deportations, done with the volition to permanently region the children from their ain country, were a usurpation of the Geneva Convention and amounted to warfare crimes.

The tribunal successful The Hague acted unusually accelerated successful the case. It has been nether aggravated scrutiny since Russia’s penetration of Ukraine, erstwhile 43 countries — a 3rd of the court’s members — astir instantly demanded that it intervene. Key donors, including the European Union, sent wealth and dozens of prosecutors to velocity up what is often seen arsenic a plodding bureaucracy. And the court’s investigators, who often are thwarted by hostile governments, received full practice from the Ukrainian authorities.


The International Criminal Court successful The Hague.Credit...Peter Dejong/Associated Press

Forcibly transferring children from 1 nationalist radical to different with the volition to destruct the radical tin besides magnitude to genocide, a complaint that Kateryna Rashevska, a lawyer astatine the Regional Center for Human Rights, a Ukrainian enactment that investigates the abduction of children, said she hoped would beryllium the adjacent step.

Russia has carried retired the deportations nether the guise of rescues, aesculapian rehabilitation initiatives and adoption programs. But the facts person been brought to airy by witnesser accounts, reports by The New York Times and different Western outlets, the Ukrainian quality media, independent investigators, the United Nations, and a big of government and rights organizations.

“They committed the transgression successful plain show and expressed pridefulness successful doing it,” Stephen Rapp, a erstwhile ambassador astatine ample who headed the Office of Global Criminal Justice successful the State Department, said successful an email.

The Kremlin has repeatedly utilized Ukrainian children arsenic portion of its run to bolster enactment for the war. When children from a radical location fled the Russian bombing of Mariupol aboriginal successful the war, for example, they were stopped astatine a Russian checkpoint. Pro-Russian quality media crews rushed to the scene, witnesses said, and cameras followed the children arsenic they were whisked deeper into Russia-held territory.

It was portrayed arsenic a rescue operation.

“All the Russian channels showed that Ukrainians are bad,” said Oleksandr Yaroshenko, a unpaid who witnessed the incidental astatine the checkpoint.

In Kherson, section officials and witnesses described an orchestrated quality to the Russian abductions. Soon aft Russian forces seized the city, they worked with section collaborators to compile lists of children successful hospitals, orphanages and schools, according to Ukrainian prosecutors and witnesses.

Security camera footage showed equipped Russian soldiers entering an orphanage successful October, and section officials said that 50 children were taken from the facility. Some of them, according to residents of Kherson, were aboriginal paraded earlier the cameras connected Russia’s authorities quality media.

The deportations person echoes of 1 of the much sinister chapters of Russian history, erstwhile Stalin utilized deportations to solidify the Kremlin’s control. From 1936 to 1952, astatine slightest 3 cardinal radical were rounded up from their homes on the Soviet Union’s occidental borders and different regions, and dumped thousands of miles distant successful Siberia and Central Asia, according to estimates by the United Nations exile agency.


Destroyed civilian and subject vehicles connected the slope of the Dnipro River, adjacent a roadworthy successful the Kherson region, successful February.Credit...Nicole Tung for The New York Times

The Kremlin referred to these radical euphemistically arsenic “special settlers.”

At the neonatal infirmary successful Kherson, the unit managed to prevention astir of the children, but 2 were taken, Ms. Pilyarska said.

“Some of children from Kherson are inactive successful Crimea. We tin sometimes spot them successful Russian media,” she said by telephone from the hospital, which had travel nether shelling successful caller days. “The others conscionable disappeared, and we don’t cognize thing astir them.”

Anna Lukinova, Marlise Simons and Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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