Children illegally taken from Russian-occupied Ukraine to ‘train’ with army in Belarus
Belarusian state-controlled television that 35 Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied Antratsyt (Luhansk oblast) were taken to Mogilev in Belarus, where they ‘trained’ with the Belarusian armed forces. The children were, purportedly, under the care of the Belarusian emergencies ministry, with the training being on how to respond to emergencies, for example, how to evacuate premises in a fire. The activities may well have been fun for the kids, as are many of the outdoor activities in Russia’s ‘military-patriotic’ camps and ‘Youth Army’ [Yunarmia] events. They are, however, invariably part of a systematic program of indoctrination, and propaganda, reflected even in the fact that all of the children had chevrons with the Russian flag on their clothes. The regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka has collaborated with Russia since the beginning of the latter’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It has actively abetted Moscow in abducting Ukrainian children and seeking to indoctrinate them into believing that they, and occupied parts of Ukraine, are ‘Russian’.
In published in November 2023, the Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab [Yale HRL] reported that at least 2,442 children, aged between 6 and 17, from occupied parts of Ukraine had been illegally taken to Belarus since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. In an earlier report published in February 2023, Yale HRL had detailed the crimes that Russia was committing with respect to Ukrainian children. It stated then that at least six thousand Ukrainian children were either being held at, or had attended Russian ‘re-education camps’. The scope has now been extended and reports on “Belarus’s complicity in and support for Russia’s systematic campaign of child deportations. Russia and Belarus are directly collaborating in the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children, with Belarus also subjecting children to ‘re-education, sometimes including military training.”
The earlier Yale HRL report was only one of the sources of evidence compiled of Russia’s illegal deportation of children, with Ukrainian human rights groups also having compiled proof and made submissions to international courts, including the International Criminal Court [ICC] at the Hague. In March 2023, the ICC Chief Prosecutor issued arrest warrants against Russian president Vladimir Putin and his so-called ‘children’s rights commissioner’ Maria Lvova-Belova over their direct role in the abduction of Ukrainian children. There is ample proof of such a direct role played by Lukashenka as well. The latter essentially boasts of such involvement, as, for example, during on 28 December 2023, which involved Ukrainian children from occupied Donbas.
Back in May 2023, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office announced that an investigation was underway into Belarus’s role in the deportation of Ukrainian children. Pavel Lautshka, a Belarusian opposition figure, the International Criminal Court with evidence that the current Belarusian regime is directly involved in such illegal movement of children. As well as considerable proof of camps to ‘re-educate and indoctrinate’ Ukrainian children, Latushka knows of cases where Ukrainian children had been taken to Belarus and then to Russia where they were put up for adoption. Ukraine’s Ombudsperson Dmytro Lubinets that Ukrainian children are, effectively, being smuggled to Russia, via Belarus, with this making it much harder to identify and rescue the children.
Latushka believes that the deportation of Ukrainian children is being financed directly by Moscow, and that children are being brainwashed in accordance with Russian propaganda narratives. All such propaganda, together with the military ‘training’ and general militarization were deployed from 2014 in occupied Crimea, and occupied parts of Donbas.
While Belarus’, and specifically Lukashenka’s, evident collaboration with Russia in the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children make it seem obvious that he too should be placed under the same ICC arrest warrant, much more is needed. It is no accident that Russia has prioritized control of media outlets and ‘education’ on any Ukrainian territory that falls under its occupation. It is perilously easy to brainwash young children into believing the totally false narrative foisted upon them. The YaleHRL report found that at least nine of the groups of children taken from occupied Ukraine to Belarus had been subjected to pro-regime ‘re-education’ in at least eight of the 13 locations they had identified (Latushka mentions 20 such locations). Additionally, at least six groups of children from Ukraine had been subjected to military training in Belarus, including by the “Internal Troops of Belarus”.
Ukrainian human rights groups, including those specifically trying to rescue abducted children, have repeatedly pointed out that the enforced deportation of children to Russia or Belarus, as well as the so-called ‘re-education’ camps aimed at indoctrinating Ukrainian children are war crimes, and also fall under the prohibition against genocide. In defining “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide specifically names “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” [Article II(e)]. Russia, abetted by the Lukashenka regime, is actively seeking to deny and eradicate Ukrainian children’s identity and to make them see themselves as ‘Russians’.