She calls it “evacuation”

In the beginning it was often difficult with orphans from Ukraine, said Maria Lwova-Belowa. Many of them have prejudices against Russia, they sing the Ukrainian anthem or say “Slava Ukrajini” (Glory to Ukraine). Some would even speak ill of Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, after a short period of getting used to it, that changes and turns “in love with Russia.” She told the Russian Citizens’ Chamber last September, just a few days before Putin annexed the partially occupied territories in violation of international law.

Lwova-Belowa is the commissioner for children’s rights in the Russian Federation, so she takes care of disadvantaged children, children with disabilities, children who grow up without parents. Since the beginning of the war, Lwova-Belowa has been responsible for bringing children from the Ukraine to Russia and placing them there with Russian families.

On Friday evening, somewhat historic news came from The Hague: The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin, by far the most prominent politician against whom such a decision was made. It’s about war crimes, more precisely: kidnapping children. In addition to the Russian President, the arrest warrant is also aimed at Maria Lwowa-Belowa. The ICC statement states that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child rights officer is responsible. That’s why it’s on many of the West’s sanctions lists.

She claims to have adopted a 15-year-old boy from Mariupol herself

Lwova-Belowa herself does not deny this at all. She keeps appearing on television, advertising for adopting a Ukrainian child. In videos on her Telegram channel, she pats children who are brought to Russia by trains and planes, hands them balloons and stuffed animals and hands them over to their adoptive parents.

She claims to have taken in one of the children herself, Filip, 15 years old, allegedly from Mariupol – the city that was heavily shelled for months and in which thousands of civilians lost their lives. Adopted son Filip is particularly fond of showing them to Telegram. He is said to have received his Russian passport in September 2022. He “didn’t want to let go of him” and was “overwhelmed by the emotions,” she writes. In a conversation with the Russian President in February 2023, which was recorded by the Kremlin, Lvova-Belowa said: “Now I know what it means to be the mother of a child from Donbass. It’s a difficult job, but we love each other , that’s for sure.” Putin replied: “That is the main thing.”

Russia: Children from the Luhansk region of Ukraine are greeted with teddy bears at the airport in Russia's Novosibirsk.

Children from the Luhansk region of Ukraine are greeted with teddy bears at the airport in Novosibirsk, Russia.

(Photo: Alexandr Kryazhev/Imago/SNA)

In her public appearances, Lwowa-Belowa always tries to emphasize that she is actually doing the right thing. What the International Criminal Court calls war crimes and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba calls genocide, she calls “evacuation.” The wording fits right in with the Kremlin’s line of stating that they want to liberate the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine from a Nazi regime. Lwowa-Belowa has nothing but mockery and cynicism about the arrest warrant issued against her from The Hague, but her statement to the TASS news agency can hardly be interpreted otherwise: “It’s great that the international community has recognized the work helping the children of our country .”

The kidnapping of Ukrainian children to Russia probably began on the first day of the war against Ukraine. Since then, the Ukrainian authorities have been trying to count the kidnapped children, but it is unclear how many. The Ukrainian government estimates that more than 16,000 children were forcibly taken to Russia. Other counts are in the hundreds of thousands. There are no official figures from the Russian side, only the irregular reports of the Russian news agencies when several hundred children have arrived in Russia.

In Russia there are said to be re-education camps for Ukrainian children

It is also unclear who the children who are being brought to Russia are. Most of them probably come from the Donbass, i.e. the eastern Ukrainian oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk, where the Ukrainian army has been fighting pro-Russian separatists since 2014. Last May, Putin issued a decree that Ukrainian children who come from the region should be naturalized faster and receive Russian citizenship. Before that, in Russia it was forbidden to adopt children from abroad if the child’s home country did not agree.

The children’s rights commissioner Lwova-Belowa always speaks of orphans who are “rescued” from homes in Ukraine, and war orphans who have lost their parents since February 24, 2022 are not brought to Russia. But there are also reports of children being separated from their parents and taken to Russia. Lwowa-Belowa also had to concede: In Mariupol, for example, 30 children were found in a cellar and placed under Russian guardianship without checking what happened to the children’s parents.

Last February, scientists from the renowned American Yale University also reported what this alleged rescue of Ukrainian children could look like: According to the report, there are at least 43 facilities in Russia and Crimea in which children are held, subjected to a pro-Russian re-education program and sometimes also militarily be formed. At least 6,000 children are housed in such camps.

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