Larysa Zhdankina: Action must be taken over child victims of Russian invasion

Larysa Zhdankina: Action must be taken over child victims of Russian invasion

Larysa Zhdankina

Dr Larysa Zhdankina, a Ukrainian lawyer exiled in Scotland, writes about the need for justice for child victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It is estimated by the online platform Children of War, that for the period from February 24, 2022 to February 13, 2024, 526 children were killed and a further 1,220 children were injured.

Over 2,100 children are missing, and 19,546 children were deported and/or forcibly displaced. As early as the summer of 2022, the aggressor party claimed that 183,168 children had already been taken to Russia by the beginning of May. Unfortunately, it is impossible to establish the real number.

These are victims of the criminal Russian regime, whose activities are aimed at destroying future generations of the Ukrainian people. These children have lost their lives, faith in the future, their homes, means of livelihood, the opportunity to study, etc. These are just the numbers for two years. However, we must always remember that the war has been going on for 10 years and, unfortunately, it was not possible to collect and compile all the data.

According to Article 49 of the IV Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, it is prohibited, regardless of the motives, to carry out forced individual or mass resettlement or deportation of protected persons from the occupied territory to the territory of the occupying state or the territory of any other state, regardless of whether it is occupied or not. The Statute of the International Criminal Court recognizes the deportation or forcible transfer of people as a war crime (Article 8 (a)(viii)) or a crime against humanity (Article 7(d)), depending on the circumstances under which such acts are committed.

But the forced relocation and deportation of Ukrainian children to the territory of Russia has been and is systemic. Most of such children are deprived of parental care or are orphans. Since 2014, about 5,000 such children have remained in Crimea and were then transferred to Russia for further adoption. Representatives of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine consider one of their main tasks is to prove the forcible illegal transfer of children from one national group to another as a sign of genocide. At the same time, it is claimed that since February 2022, this phenomenon has acquired a particularly massive scale.

On 17 March 2023, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court issued warrants of arrest for two individuals in the context of the situation in Ukraine: Mr Vladimir Putin and Ms Maria Lvova-Belova, who are allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of the population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation (under articles 8(2)(a)(vii) and 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute).

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has recognised that the forced detention and deportation of children from Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine is “genocide”. Examples of international criminal law regarding the understanding of the concepts of deportation and forced transfer can become a guide for Ukraine in proving Russia’s criminal actions.

On December 19, 2023, the UN General Assembly adopted an updated resolution “The human rights situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.” The General Assembly calls on the Russian Federation to stop the deportation of Ukrainian children, any change in the status of these children, and to provide comprehensive information to relevant UN agencies and international organizations, including a list of all deported Ukrainian children, including those whose status has been changed, adopted or placed in the care of foster parents, and to take all necessary measures for the safe return of these children to the Motherland.

It is important to emphasise the need to enforce court decisions. Russia’s disregard of the court order is evidence of a violation of international law. Putin’s recent interview with an American journalist clearly shows that rewriting history, appropriating territory and people, propaganda and lies, and blackmailing with weapons are common practices in Russia. Evidence illustrates that Russia not only wants to continue its colonial policy in Ukraine but also wants to make Ukrainians slaves to its regime.

Scotland acted quickly to provide immediate safety for Ukrainians following the illegal Russian invasion. Since the beginning of the war, it has received more than 25,500 people. Most of them are mothers with children.

Despite the horrors experienced and the terrible sounds of air alarms etched in their memory, every day, every minute, for almost two years, Ukrainians in Scotland have been learning to live in a world without war. Each of us has the greatest value – our life! We didn’t buy it, we didn’t beg for it, we didn’t get life as a gift and we didn’t win it in the lottery. We were born. Therefore, our children must live. They are the future generation of Ukrainians.

Dr Larysa Zhdankina is a Ukrainian-qualified attorney and a visiting academic with the School of Law at the University of Glasgow

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