Russia has held at least 6,000 Ukrainian children, likely many more, in sites in Russian-held Crimea and Russia.
According to a US-backed report, the primary purpose of the move appears to be political re-education.
The report said Yale University researchers identified at least 43 camps and other facilities where Ukrainian children have been held that were part of a “large-scale systematic network” operated by Moscow since its February 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine.
The children included those with parents or clear familial guardianship, those Russia deemed orphans, others who were in the care of Ukrainian state institutions before the invasion and those whose custody was unclear or uncertain due to the war, it said.
“The primary purpose of the camp facilities we’ve identified appears to be political re-education,” Nathaniel Raymond, one of the researchers, said in a briefing to reporters.
Some of the children were moved through the system and adopted by Russian families, or moved into foster care in Russia, the report said.
The youngest child identified in the Russian program was just four months old, and some camps were giving military training to children as young as 14, Mr Raymond said, adding that researchers had not found evidence those children were later deployed in combat.
A recent ABC news report, citing UN statutes, said taking children to change, alter or eliminate their national identity can constitute a component act of the crime of genocide.
Meanwhile, the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), many of whose members are supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine, says it is more important that Kyiv’s allies, Sweden and Finland join the bloc quickly rather than together.
It said NATO was racing against time, especially in the face of Russia’s renewed offensives across Ukraine, which it has promised more heavy German- and US-made heavy tanks and fighter aircraft, as well as artillery shells and more sophisticated US-type Stinger missiles.
Writing by Tony Okerafor