Other View: Sending Ukrainian kids to 're-education camps' just the latest war crime

From the editorial: "Even for children who have been returned to their parents, Putin has accomplished his goal of imprinting them with a Russified mindset."

Bob Englehart/Cagle Cartoons

One of Vladimir Putin’s strategies during his brutal, illegal war in Ukraine has been to ensure that Russians only hear one version of reality. His.

This week, the world learned that he’s also applying that tactic to Ukrainian children.

The Russian government has put thousands of Ukrainian children into what the Kremlin pitched as “recreation camps” but in actuality are re-education facilities aimed at Russifying the children with a pro-Moscow lens into Russian culture, history, and society, according to a report released by Yale University and the Conflict Observatory, a program created by the State Department to document war crimes committed by Russian forces and their proxies in Ukraine.

The children are between 4 months and 17 years old. Some boys have been given military training, including instruction on driving trucks and handling firearms. Russia began taking Ukrainian children to the camps in February 2022, and as of January relocation of children to the facilities was still happening, according to the report.

Putin was already vulnerable to an array of war-crime charges. In the Ukrainian town of Bucha, Ukrainian officials and witnesses found evidence of Russian troops carrying out summary executions of dozens of men in civilian clothes, some with hands tied behind their backs and gunshot wounds to their heads. In the southern city of Mariupol, Russian forces targeted and destroyed a maternity hospital.


This latest inhuman act, however, is uniquely heinous. Putin is turning children into fodder for his own political ambitions.

Though the report documents at least 6,000 children being sent to camps, its authors estimate the numbers could be much higher. Camp locations span from Crimea, the Ukrainian province illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, to southern Russia and Siberia, including the Far East province of Magadan. That means Ukrainian children held at the Magadan camp are at least 3,900 miles away from their parents and relatives in Ukraine, as far away as London is from Chicago.

According to the report, Russia’s actions could constitute a violation of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of a Child, a legally binding international pact on the treatment of children. Taking Ukrainian children for the purpose of permanent relocation in Russia, either through adoption or foster care, could constitute a war crime.

Even for children who have been returned to their parents, Putin has accomplished his goal of imprinting them with a Russified mindset. The report quoted one Russian official as saying, “all camps ... are aimed at patriotic education of youth, the development of communication skills and the preservation of cultural heritage.” Russian patriotism, Russian education, Russian cultural heritage.

Filling children’s heads with self-serving propaganda is far from a new tactic for Putin. In the 2000s, Russian teens co-opted into Putin’s political youth movement, known as “Ours,” would meet each summer at a camp at Lake Seliger outside Moscow for two weeks of sports and ideological indoctrination. The goal of “Ours” was clear: create the next generation of pro-Putin Russians.

Putin’s exploitation of Ukrainian children is different, of course, because it’s about creating a new generation that ascribes to the Russian leader’s twisted belief that Ukraine should not exist, that it always has and always will belong to Russia.

Putin may claim he’s saving these children by removing them from the theater of war. But that’s patently wrong — he put Ukraine’s children in harm’s way by illegally invading their sovereign nation. He certainly did not think about children when he bombed the maternity hospital in Mariupol, or when Russian artillery shells rained on hundreds of Ukrainian schools.

We don’t expect Putin to suddenly realize the indefensible depravity of his re-education camps. We do, however, expect the international community to hold the former KGB agent accountable when the time is right.


For the time being, the U.S. and NATO must focus on helping Ukraine win the war and preserve its sovereignty. At some point, though, the moment will come for the international community to judge the breadth and impact of this man’s war crimes.

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