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At least 6,000 Ukrainian children taken to Russian territory since beginning of war, many put in re-education camps

Ukraine says Russia is stealing its children
Ukraine says Russia is "systematically" stealing its children 04:07

At least 6,000 of Ukrainian children have been taken to camps and other facilities in Russia and Russian-occupied territory, prevented from communicating with their families and subjected to pro-Russian re-education, according to a report from the Conflict Observatory, a research group that monitors alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine.  

The children, who range in age from four months to 17 years, have in some cases been forced to attend classes on Russian culture and patriotism as part of "integration programs," said the observatory, which is independent but, as part of the Yale School of Public Health's Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL), receives support from the U.S. State Department. Moscow claims some, but not all of the children taken into Russian custody since the start of the war almost a year ago were orphans.  

"The total number of children is not known and is likely significantly higher than 6,000," the report says.

Ukrainian children attend classroom instruction as part of Russian re-education programming in an undated photo included in a report published on February 14, 2023 by the U.S. government-supported Conflict Observatory at the Yale School of Public Health's Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL). Handout/Conflict Observatory

"In many cases, Russia purported to temporarily evacuate children in Ukraine under the guise of a free summer camp, only to later refuse to return the children and to cut off all contacts with their families," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday. "Putin seeks to rob Ukraine of its future by taking its children."

According to the report, there is a network of at least 43 facilities, including camps and other locations, being used to house Ukrainian children, both in Russia and in Ukraine's Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula. The observatory said some of the sites were almost 4,000 miles from Russia's western border with Ukraine.

At least 78% of the camps are putting the Ukrainian children through Russian patriotism programs, which the authors of the report say have "the apparent goal of integrating children from Ukraine into the Russian government's vision of national culture, history, and society."

In the cases of Ukrainian parents who have allowed their children to attend these camps, their consent was often completely violated or acquired under duress, the report alleges. At least 10% of the camps have suspended all returns, meaning the children are not allowed to rejoin their families in Ukraine, it says.

The entire program is being coordinated centrally by the Russian government, the report says, in an effort involving officials from the federal to local levels.

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of systematically "kidnapping" the country's children for months and stripping them of their identities.

"Russia continues its kidnapping of Ukrainian children," Ukraine's Ambassador to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya, told the global body in May, adding that many were being "illegally adopted by Russian citizens."

Since the early days of the war nearly one year ago, Ukraine has faced an acute child protection crisis, CBS News correspondent Pamela Falk reported, including family separations, violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking, as well as the transporting of children to Russia.

CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay met people working to bring the children back home — and he met Ukrainian teenagers who had been swept up in the Russian program, but rescued. (Watch Livesay's full August 2022 report at the top of this article.)

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