The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Russia’s abductions of Ukrainian children are a genocidal crime

Empty cribs in the courtyard of Kherson regional children's home in southern Ukraine in November. (Bernat Armangue/AP)
3 min

War is chaotic, inexplicable and devastating to children caught up in it. But war is not an excuse to abduct children from parents and their nation, as Russia is now doing in Ukraine. This is specifically prohibited by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia — and attempts to brainwash them, removing their language and culture — is a genocidal crime that calls for prosecution.

The Post’s Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova reported Dec. 24 on the details of an abhorrent Russian campaign to ship Ukrainian children to faraway cities inside Russia. President Vladimir Putin issued a decree in May making it easy for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children, and the policy is being “vigorously pursued” by the Russian children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, who “openly advocates stripping children of their Ukrainian identities and teaching them to love Russia,” they reported. Ukrainian children taken to Russia would, at first, insult the Russian leader by singing the Ukrainian national anthem, Ms. Lvova-Belova told journalists, “but then it transforms into love for Russia.” The Kremlin has boasted of the removals, evidenced by the number of photos and videos appearing on its website and on state television.

While the number of children taken is not clear, Daria Herasymchuk, Ukraine’s top children’s rights official, has estimated that nearly 11,000 Ukrainian children have been taken by Russia without their parents.

The seizure of these children appears to violate the treaty, which seeks to outlaw acts “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The treaty prohibits “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Some international law experts have argued that the genocide convention also prohibits acts to destroy a protected group’s culture, language and religion” — including that of children. The facts Ms. Lvova-Belova and Mr. Putin have acknowledged about assimilating the Ukrainian children into Russia and eradicating their culture provide evidence of intent to commit genocide as defined by the treaty.

Press Enter to skip to end of carousel
Also on the Editorial Board’s agenda
  • The misery of Belarus’s political prisoners should not be ignored.
  • Biden has a new border plan.
  • The United States should keep the pressure on Nicaragua.
  • America’s fight against inflation isn’t over.
  • The Taliban has doubled down on the repression of women.
  • The world’s ice is melting quickly.
Ihar Losik, one of hundreds of young people unjustly jailed in Belarus for opposing Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, attempted suicide but was saved and sent to a prison medical unit, according to the human rights group Viasna. Losik, 30, a blogger who led a popular Telegram channel, was arrested in 2020 and is serving a 15-year prison term on charges of “organizing riots” and “incitement to hatred.” His wife is also a political prisoner. Read more about their struggle — and those of other political prisoners — in a recent editorial.
The Department of Homeland Security has provided details of a plan to prevent a migrant surge along the southern border. The administration would presumptively deny asylum to migrants who failed to seek it in a third country en route — unless they face “an extreme and imminent threat” of rape, kidnapping, torture or murder. Critics allege that this is akin to an illegal Trump-era policy. In fact, President Biden is acting lawfully in response to what was fast becoming an unmanageable flow at the border. Read our most recent editorial on the U.S. asylum system.
Some 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners left that Central American country for the United States in February. President Daniel Ortega released and sent them into exile in a single motion. Nevertheless, it appears that Mr. Ortega let them go under pressure from economic sanctions the United States imposed on his regime when he launched a wave of repression in 2018. The Biden administration should keep the pressure on. Read recent editorials about the situation in Nicaragua.
Inflation remains stubbornly high at 6.4 percent in January. The Federal Reserve’s job is not done in this fight. More interest rate hikes are needed. Read a recent editorial about inflation and the Fed.
Afghanistan’s rulers had promised that barring women from universities was only temporary. But private universities got a letter on Jan. 28 warning them that women are prohibited from taking university entrance examinations. Afghanistan has 140 private universities across 24 provinces, with around 200,000 students. Out of those, some 60,000 to 70,000 are women, the AP reports. Read a recent editorial on women’s rights in Afghanistan.
A new study finds that half the world’s mountain glaciers and ice caps will melt even if global warming is restrained to 1.5 degrees Celsius — which it won’t be. This would feed sea-level rise and imperil water sources for hundreds of millions. Read a recent editorial on how to cope with rising seas, and another on the policies needed to fight climate change.


End of carousel

The provision in the genocide treaty was adopted in the shadow of Nazi atrocities, including a scheme directed by Heinrich Himmler to snatch children from Poland and place them in German orphanages or with German families to be raised as Germans. The first convictions at the Nazi war crimes trials were for child abductions. Prosecutor Harold Neely declared that “it is no defense for a kidnapper to say he treated his victim well,” noting that “these innocent children were abducted for the very purpose of being indoctrinated with Nazi ideology and brought up as ‘good’ Germans. This serves to aggravate, not mitigate, the crime.”

Russia, successor to the Soviet Union, is a party to the genocide convention. But Mr. Putin has shown little regard for international laws or norms of any kind in his war to wipe out Ukraine’s democracy and its people. He and the other Russian officials complicit in genocidal crimes against children should be held to account.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).