Activists identified the route by which children from the occupied Ukrainian territories are deported to Belarus
Human rights defenders from Regional Center for Human Rights, a Ukrainian non-profit group and a member of the “5 am. Coalition” have identified the route and at least eight places where children abducted from the occupied territories of Ukraine are held in Belarus. The group presented its findings in a research paper released in early August 2023.
Children were taken to Belarus before 2022. Thus, in September 2021, 131 pupils of Donetsk Special Boarding School No. 17 and Amvrosiivka Boarding School No. 4 were sent to the Zubrenok camp for “rehabilitation,” Children from Donetsk Boarding School No. 1 were also taken there.
However, there is information about the removal of children since 2015.
With the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, the number of abductees began to grow. According to Belarusian officials, more than three thousand children were illegally transferred. However, having calculated the total amount spent on the deportees, researchers say that at least 9,000 underage Ukrainians could have been or are still in Belarus.
Among the camps that can accommodate children:
- Dubrava children’s health camp of Belaruskali (Gomel region);
- Children’s rehabilitation and health center “Zhdanovichi” (Minsk district);
- Zolotye Sands sanatorium (Gomel district);
- Republican Children’s Hospital for Medical Rehabilitation “Ostroshitsky Gorodok” (Minsk district);
- Hotel “Belarus” (Vitebsk district);
- National Children’s Educational and Recreational Center “Zubrenok” (Minsk region);
- Volma sanatorium (Minsk region);
- Zeleny Bor sanatorium (Minsk region).
Some of these places were known before, for example, Dubravka, where two Belarusian propagandists, speaking to deported children, expressed hopes for the occupation of Ukraine and told how they prayed for the “death of enemies.”
Human rights defenders have also identified two places of detention run by the Belarusian Orthodox Church, where minors from the occupied territories of Ukraine were received in 2015-2016.
Children were taken to Belarus from the Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia regions. The intermediate point on the way to the republic is the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where they are brought by bus and from there by the Adler-Minsk train, operated by the Belarusian Railways and runs every two days. From the Belarusian capital, they are distributed to camps.
No cases of further placement of children in boarding schools in Belarus or foster families have been recorded. At the same time, the Aleksei Talay Foundation, which is involved in the deportations, offers Belarusians to “take in children from Ukraine.”
As a reminder, close relatives of the self-proclaimed President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, help the Russian occupying forces to abduct children from Ukraine.
The Belarusian Red Cross Society and its head, Dmitriy Shevtsov, were also involved in the abductions. He spoke about it himself. Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, called the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for him.
Previously, ZMINA reported that one of the primary purposes of sending children from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine to camps is ‘re-education’ – the integration of Ukrainian children into the education and leisure system approved by the Russian government. The program includes Russian narratives about the nature of the full-scale invasion and the history of Russian-Ukrainian relations.
Some of those who have been returned to Ukraine tell of abuse and threats to send them to an insane asylum, of the terrible conditions in the so-called ‘camps,’ of ideological re-education, and of being treated like animals by the administration and educators.
On March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Children’s Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova. The court said in a statement that Russian officials are suspected of the war crime of illegally deporting children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation.