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Ukrainian children have been stolen by Russia, together we must get them back




writes Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General.

Torture, deportation, death – this is just a snapshot of the horrors facing children in occupied parts of Ukraine.

The world sees the military operations and the constant bombardment, they see the speeches and the promises of aid. But Ukraine is also fighting on another front that transcends the trench line that shifts on any given day. It’s the fight to bring our children home.

Since Russia illegally invaded Ukraine in February 2022, over 19,500 children have been ripped from their families and their homeland, their identities and nationalities changed before being put up for adoption in Russia. Russia is trying to erase Ukrainians of our identity, something the international community vowed would not be repeated after 1945.

Some of these children were wounded or orphaned in Russian bombardments on Ukrainian towns and villages. Some were left homeless after their families were detained. Children have unfortunately been in the crosshairs of Russian weapons throughout the war, with a Ukrainian growing estimate that 522 children have been killed, over 1216 injured and 2198 missing children still unaccounted for as a result of the Russian invasion.

Russia is deliberately attempting to sever any connection these children have with Ukraine, their relatives, and their loved ones. The mass abduction and illegal displacement of children, taking away their sense of who they are, is hugely damaging to our nation.


Russia’s strategy to strip Ukraine of our future has been organised, premeditated and systematic. The exceptional scale and duration of Russia’s plan to take Ukrainian children pushes the boundary of humanity and depravity the world has not seen for decades, and is considered an act of genocide under the Geneva Convention.

But Russia doesn’t see it this way – they proudly announce the transfer of children from Ukraine, showing it off as ‘humanitarian assistance’ to Ukrainian families. Let me be clear, the abduction of children is one of the most outrageous international crimes, and to do so with the intention of stealing away a country’s future compounds this already heinous crime.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued warrants of arrest for President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights, for the war crime of unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children and my office continues to assist the ICC as the hunt for more criminality in these heinous crimes continue.

Russia has also made it easier for their own state to process these abductions. On January 4, 2024, Decree No. 11 simplified the procedure for processing Ukrainian children into Russian citizens by enabling applications for citizenship to be submitted by the Russian guardians of these children or by the heads of Russian organizations. Children under the age of 14 are not asked for their consent to adoption and no proper checks are made to ensure that the child has no relatives in Ukraine.

These children are being forced to change their citizenship and undergo Russian ‘re-education’ making identifying and finding these children all the more harder. We must establish an international mechanism for children’s safe return to Ukraine and force Russia to stop these barbaric acts.

The human cost of this conflict Russia started cannot be overstated. Amid this grim backdrop, President Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula emerges as a beacon of hope that keeps the Ukrainian people and the rule of law at the heart of it.

All wars come to an end, and so will Russia’s war against the Ukrainian people. The 10-step Peace Formula remains the only way to restore just and long-lasting peace for Ukraine. It is about international security, safety, and justice and grounded in key principles of international law and the UN Charter. The implementation of the Peace Formula is the restoration of respect for both these foundation rules of global order.

The fourth pillar of the Peace Formula is to bring home all deported, captured and illegally imprison Ukrainians, including our stolen children. Alongside a military victory, this remains President Zelenskyy’s highest priority. He, like every Ukrainian, is committed to defeating the aggressor, ridding our land of invaders and bringing back our people.

The International Coalition for the Return of Ukrainian Children has been established as a platform for coordinating the efforts of Ukraine and our partner states, and we appreciate the support Ukraine has received so far in this endeavour.

On June 13 I will be able to highlight the importance of this issue in Brussels, to raise awareness the devastating impact this has had on so many families in Ukraine. At a special conference “Bring Kids Back: A Precondition for a Just Peace in Ukraine,” organized to bring together officials in Brussels, we will listen to the testimonies of stolen children and provide the foundation for discussion on how we can ensure all children are returned to their families. It is critical that all EU member states better understand the issue and start collective action to resolve this inhumane criminality. No country should be subject to the horrors the Ukrainian people have been subject too.

Ukraine’s quest for Peace is not just about ending the war, it is about our future. The Ukrainian people will never forget those who stood beside us as we fought for our future and helped us bring our children home. The current support we have received from nations and allies across the world has given us the tools to help us continue the fight for our homeland.

Every possible lever must be pulled to ensure Putin’s regime faces international accountability, and we ensure the safe return of each and every child to their homeland. Remember who it is we fight for and what our end goal is; the survival of the Ukrainian people.

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