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Verstka: Russia coerced deported Ukrainian orphans into its Investigative Committee Schools

Russia’s Investigative Committee headed by Aleksandr Bastrykin coerced dozens of deported Ukrainian orphans into joining its cadet corps and training academies, an investigation by Verstka and the Kidmapping project has found. This may constitute war crimes and can be used as evidence of genocide.
Photo: Verstka / Russian Investigative Committee visit orphans taken from Ukraine in Kaluga, Russia.
Verstka: Russia coerced deported Ukrainian orphans into its Investigative Committee Schools

Russian Investigative Committee “took patronage” over Ukrainian children living in children‘s homes throughout Russia and coerced them to enter the Russian cadet corps, Russia’s opposition media Verstka reports.

As per Verstka, the Russian Investigative Committee and its head, Aleksandr Bastrykin, are involved in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia and their forced placement into Russian military training programs.

The Committee sent its employees to 10 such homes with toys, clothes, and school supplies to coerce the children to enter the Russian cadet corps. Its head, Bastrykin, also personally visited Ukrainian children in Russia and told them, “Russian victory depends on the children and that the Russian Investigative Committee is there to support them.”

Verstka and the Kidmapping project record information on the likely whereabouts of children taken from Ukraine in Russia, Belarus, and the occupied territories and places the data on a map.

Screenshot from the Kidmapping project: whereabouts of stolen Ukrainian children

The committee began visiting orphanages and institutions housing Ukrainian children after they were deported to Russia, bringing aid and recruiting school-aged orphans and wards of the state into cadet corps affiliated with the agency.

By September 2022, over 40 children from the Donbas region were wearing cadet uniforms and studying in Investigative Committee cadet schools in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Volgograd, Verstka writes. Some were featured in official videos talking about their dreams to become investigators.

One Luhansk girl said she looked forward “to the Academy of the Investigative Committee. I hope I successfully get through it all and become a very good investigator.”

Verstka says the ideological education aims to instill loyalty to Russia, with lessons on “Russian pride” and support for Russia’s “special military operation.” Cadets also aided wounded Russian soldiers.

Lawyer Olga Gnezdilova called it “indoctrination” violating the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which calls for respecting children’s cultural identity.

At least two children have since left the cadet schools, including a boy who faced bullying and wanted to be a chef, not an investigator. But most see a prosperous career path under the patronage of Russia’s powerful security apparatus.

In total, the Russian Committee’s employees took 323 children from Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts, including 181 orphans, Verstka found. About 78 Ukrainian children (28 orphans) entered educational institutions, including the cadet corps and academies affiliated with the Investigative Committee, from February 2022 to March 2023. Ukrainian children told Verstka that they felt compelled to participate in the Russian cadet corps due to the educational opportunity.

“The coercion of Ukrainian children, who are legally unable to consent to their deportations and participation in such military-patriotic re-education programs, is likely part of an ongoing Russian campaign to eradicate the Ukrainian national identity and militarize youth who have been forcibly deported to Russia,” Verstka reports.

According to international law, the transfer of minors to the territory of an aggressor country is considered a forced displacement and a crime against humanity. The International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova for illegally transferring children.

According to a report by the American New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy and the Canadian Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, cases of orphan removal can be used as evidence of genocide.

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