AMSTERDAM — Since Russia invaded Ukraine, more than 2,400 Ukrainian children ages six to 17 have been transferred to 13 facilities across Belarus, according to a study released Thursday by Yale University.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general said in May that he was investigating Belarus’ alleged role in the forced displacement of more than 19,000 identified children from territories occupied by Russia since the outbreak of the conflict, including to Russia.
Some experts and organizations estimate the total number to be much higher.
The findings from the Humanitarian Research Laboratory at the Yale School of Public Health, which receives U.S. State Department funding, provided to Reuters are the most extensive yet on Belarus’s alleged role in Russia’s program to relocate Ukrainian children.
Russia has previously said it offers humanitarian aid to people wishing to voluntarily leave Ukraine and denies accusations of war crimes.
READ: Moscow says 700,000 children from Ukrainian conflict zones currently in Russia
The press service of the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights, which oversees the relocation of children from occupied Ukraine, and the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the research.
“These disclosures of Belarusian involvement are part of a broader Russia-led campaign,” the US State Department said in a statement. “The United States will continue to hold accountable those involved in abuses related to Russia’s war against Ukraine.”
Key findings detailed in the 39-page report include that children were transported from at least 17 cities in Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions, which Yale researchers described as an ongoing practice.
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More than 2,000 children identified by Yale were transferred to a children’s facility in Dubrava, Minsk Oblast, Belarus, between September 2022 and May 2023, and 392 children were transferred to 12 other facilities.
“Russia’s systematic efforts to identify, collect, transport and re-educate Ukrainian children were facilitated by Belarus,” the report said.
“The federal government of Russia and the regime in Belarus are working together to coordinate and finance the movement of children from Russian-occupied Ukraine through Russia to Belarus.”
READ: “Bring them back”: Ukrainian orphans demand the return of children to Russia
Transports to Belarus via Russia were “finally coordinated” by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, he added.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March. She accused him and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, of a war crime involving the illegal deportation of hundreds of children from Ukraine.
READ: Factbox: Details of ICC arrest warrant against Putin
Bringing children under 18 years of age across a border without the consent of a parent or guardian is prohibited under international humanitarian law.
Ukraine’s war crimes prosecutor said it was investigating the deportation for potential genocide.
The Genocide Convention defines five acts, each of which may constitute a crime if committed with genocidal intent, including the forcible removal of children from their group.
READ: US imposes sanctions for forced deportations and transfers of Ukrainian children
Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Prosecutor General, which oversees war crimes investigations, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
According to the Yale report, Lukashenko agreed to use state organizations to transport children from Ukraine to Belarus and finance their transport. It was found that after arriving in Belarus, the children were subjected to military training and re-education.
It is unclear how many of the children identified in the Yale study remain in Belarus.
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