war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Ukrainian children abducted to Russia forced to glorify convicted criminals pardoned for fighting against Ukraine

Halya Coynash
Russia is continuing to abduct and brainwash Ukrainian children despite the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrants against Putin and his ‘children’s ombudsperson’ Maria Lvova-Belova over these likely war crimes

Children at a Russian school orphanage, likely including those forcibly abducted from Ukraine, holding the pro-war slogan (we’re together) and under a sign claiming that ’Russia is our motherland’

Children at a Russian school orphanage, likely including those forcibly abducted from Ukraine, holding the pro-war slogan (we’re together) and under a sign claiming that ’Russia is our motherland’

Russia is not only kidnapping Ukrainian children but is systematically brainwashing them into believing that they should ‘love’ the aggressor state waging war against their country.  One particularly cynical lie is the insistence that they glorify convicted criminals who agreed to fight in Russia’s war against Ukraine for money, release from imprisonment and, most incredibly, a presidential pardon.  Russia is, moreover, known to be using similar methods, and even getting children to write ‘thank you letters’ to such Russian ‘soldiers’ on parts of Ukraine currently under Russian occupation.

The Russian independent publication Important Stories reported earlier in 2023 that at least two and a half thousand Ukrainian children had been forcibly taken to Russia and placed on a database for children available for fostering or adoption.  It is because of such illegal deportation of Ukrainian children and their Russification that the International Criminal Court issued international arrest warrants against Russian president Vladimir Putin and his so-called children’s commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova in March 2023.  That move has made Lvova-Belova somewhat more cautious in her public pronouncements, but has changed nothing else, with Russia just as aggressively seeking to indoctrinate Ukrainian children and allow their adoption in Russia.  In late June, Important Stories journalist Katya Bonch-Osmolovskaya reported that nearly 1200 Ukrainian children had been placed into foster care with families in Rostov oblast.  Even if that number constitutes all of the children from occupied Donbas who, Lvova-Belova claimed in early June 2023, had “gained new families”, it would still be almost three times the figure of 380 children that Lvova-Belova gave.

As reported here, Lvova-Belova herself admitted that children taken to Russia from Mariupol had expressed pro-Ukrainian, anti-Kremlin views which she said needed to be eliminated.  The children that she referred to on that occasion included three siblings, whose father, Yevhen Mezhevyi, the Russians had imprisoned, and who were rescued just days before Russia was threatening to hand them over for ‘adoption’.  Russia has only now released Bohdan Yermokhin, a 17-year-old lad from Mariupol, whom it prevented from leaving several times, and whom it was threatening to conscript into its armed forces.

Important Stories have now tracked down one of three Ukrainian siblings first written about in May this year. Valeria, her brother Oleksandr and sister Halyna are officially orphans and were taken, with other children, from Donetsk oblast after Russia’s full-scale invasion.  It is unclear where her brother and sister are, however Valeria is, apparently, the girl standing with five boys of different ages in a disturbing propaganda video posted by the ‘First Sanatorium Children’s Home’ in Nizhny Novgorod on Russia’s so-called National Unity Day on 4 November 2023.  She is clearly reciting learned words when she says: “our country is a big territory on which many people live, of different cultures, traditions and nationalities, but we are all one whole, one brotherhood”. 

The report has also looked at other children’s homes / school-orphanages where children are known to have been taken from occupied Donbas. 

Questionable ‘heroes’

Naryshkinskaya school-orphanage in Orlov oblast now has a plaque honouring one of the many convicted prisoners who agreed to fight in the notorious Wagner Unit in the second half of 2022, in order to gain their freedom, a presidential pardon and for prisoners a lot of money.

Although recruitment of convicted prisoners, including men who had committed multiple murders, was initially linked with Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Unit mercenaries, such recruitment could only have taken place with the full approval of the prison authorities and, ultimately, the Kremlin.  It is, after all, Putin who pardons the men.  Such recruitment is now effectively under the control of the defence ministry

Ramis Isayenko was one of the Wagner Unit fighters who was killed just two months after he was released from prison and sente to Ukraine.  The memorial plaque claims that he “fought for the freedom of LPR [the Russian proxy ‘Luhansk people’s republic’] and fell, with the death of the brave, on the battlefield, having demonstrated courage and daring.”   There is no mention of his three criminal prosecutions and sentences, nor the fact that he had gone to Donbas from the harsh regime prison colony where he had been serving a four-year sentence.  There was, in principle, no need as after his death, his conviction was essentially revoked due to his pardon and death. In fact, changes to the draconian legislation on so-called discrediting of the Russian armed forces was broadened to include the Wagner unit and other mercenaries, and many journalists would be wary of bringing up inconvenient details for fear of prosecution for ‘discrediting’ the armed forces (with the ‘discrediting’ being in mentioning his past, not in the fact of his recruitment and pardoning).

Putin has pardoned plenty of convicted murderers and violent criminals who have since returned home, in most cases, filling their victims’ families with horror and outrage.  For all that he had three convictions, Isayenko was by no means in that league, with his arrests and terms of imprisonment on drug offences and theft.  That still leaves him very far from being a role model for children to follow.

He was serving a four-year sentence in a harsh regime prison colony when recruited.  He had himself grown up in the school orphanage that now bears a plaque in his memory.  Important Stories explains that while he was fighting, almost 60 children were brought to the orphanage from occupied Donetsk oblast.  It is these children who took part in ‘honouring’ a man who had agreed to fight against the children’s country – and had done so, whatever the plaque says, for money and to get out of his prison sentence.

The school-orphanage, IS reports, devotes a lot of attention to so-called ‘patriotic upbringing’.  In February 2023, for example, Igor Shishkov, a former Afghanistan War veteran, now a Russian Orthodox priest spoke to the childre about ‘patriotism’ and the “deeds of the holy defenders of Rus”.  He claimed that “the Lord” had called Orthodox fighters to service and that they had “carried out their duty to the Fatherland with honour”.  He also took part in the events around the unveiling of the plaque to Isayenko, with the report saying that the latter was posthumously awarded a medal “For Courage”.

Important Stories has identified seven children, brought from Donetsk oblast, who took part in these events.  There was even a ceremony where Ukrainian lad was handed a Russian passport to mark turning 14.  The ceremony is under a banner reading “Our Homeland is Russia”.

It is clear that these children, like those in occupied Crimea, are bombarded with advertisements aimed at making them want to enlist in the Russian army.

Thanking” invaders

In October 2022, at least nine children from occupied Donetsk oblast ended up in a Lipetsk region institution for children with special educational needs ‘Trajectory’.  These Ukrainian children, like those in occupied Crimea and other occupied Ukrainian territory, write letters ‘thanking’ the soldiers taking part in the full-scale invasion, although, of course, given very different words to use.  One such letter that the children almost certainly just copy, says: “Our dear heroes, defenders!  We are proud of you!  Thank you for your courage.  There is nothing stronger than the heart of a soldier! The strength and spirit of the Russian people are with you!”

Important Stories reports that they have established the identity of three of the children.  All of them, despite the claims from Lvova-Belova that Ukrainian children are not being put up for adoption, are available for either a foster home, or for adoption.  In the latter case, Russia allows so-called adoptive parents the same rights as the children’s biological parents, with this meaning that they can change the child’s name, or other details.   That will make it hard, if not impossible, to find children who were illegally taken from Ukraine, without any real effort to find out if the children have family in Ukraine.   

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