According to a new report by Yale University researchers working with the US State Department in a program to hold Russia accountable, the Russian government operates a systematic network of at least 40 child custody centers for thousands of Ukrainian children, a potential war crime.
The report, “Russia’s Systematic Program for the Re-Education and Adoption of Ukrainian Children,” describes a network of detention centers stretching from the Black Sea coast to Siberia.
“This is not a rogue camp, a rogue mayor, or a rogue governor,” says Nathaniel Raymond, executive director of the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab. “This is a massive logistical undertaking that does not occur by chance.”
Raymond’s research team is working on one of the war’s most contentious issues. According to Ukrainian officials, Russia has evacuated thousands of Ukrainian children without their parents’ permission.
Russian officials do not deny the presence of Ukrainian children in Russia, but insist the camps are part of a large humanitarian project for abandoned, war-traumatized orphans, and have been unusually open with social media messaging aimed at a Russian audience. Russia, on the other hand, refuses to acknowledge the number of children in the country or where they are housed.
“All of this strikes us as a carefully orchestrated performance,” says Caitlin Howarth, the Yale lab’s director of operations.
“The Russian government needs to legitimize its activities so that everything appears normal,” she says, “because you simply cannot move this many children through this many places without their movements being noticed.”