Children are continuing to be taken from battle zones in Ukraine for adoption in Russia - that's according to the US Institute of War, which cites confirmations from Russian media.
It says children have been transported from the devastated city of Mariupol to be processed by the office of the Commissioner for Children's Rights. The end goal is to be adopted into Russian families.
Its head, Maria Lvova-Belova, has herself taken in a teenager according to one of her posts on the Telegram messaging service. Meanwhile, in Kherson, people continue to be evacuated and moved into Russia proper, which Ukraine advised its citizens to resist.
According to an investigation by AP, Russia is conducting an open effort to adopt Ukrainian children and bring them up as Russian.
Moscow claims that these children don't have parents or guardians to look after them, or that they can't be reached. But AP alleges that officials have deported Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-held territories without consent and lied to them that they weren't wanted by their parents.
Whether or not they have parents, raising the children of war in another country or culture can be a marker of genocide, an attempt to erase the very identity of an enemy nation. Prosecutors say it also can be tied directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has explicitly supported the adoptions.
“It’s not something that happens spur of the moment on the battlefield,” said Stephen Rapp, a former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues who is advising Ukraine on prosecutions. “And so your ability to attribute responsibility to the highest level is much greater here.”
Even where parents are dead, Rapp said, their children must be sheltered, fostered or adopted in Ukraine rather than deported to Russia.
Russian law prohibits the adoption of foreign children. But in May, Putin signed a decree making it easier for Russia to adopt and give citizenship to Ukrainian children without parental care. It also made it harder for Ukraine and surviving relatives to win them back.
Russia also has prepared a register of suitable Russian families for Ukrainian children and pays them for each child who gets citizenship. This can be up to €1,000 for those with disabilities.
It holds summer camps for Ukrainian orphans, offers “patriotic education” classes and even runs a hotline to pair Russian families with children from Donbas, according to AP.