Children are the most vulnerable in times of war and it is always they who pay the highest toll during crises. Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine is no exception.
More than a year since the conflict erupted, Russia’s war in Ukraine is putting a huge strain on children and youth, shrinking the perspective of children and youth on their future and looming over their hopes of reaching their full potential.
Since the beginning of the war, at least 437 children have been killed and over 740 have been injured. Millions have fled their homes, separated from their families and put at risk of violence. Over seven million Ukrainian children need assistance in Ukraine and in other European countries.
To support them, the EU has resolutely reacted in an unprecedented display of unity and unwavering support for the Ukrainian people. The EU’s Temporary Protection Directive offered immediate support to Ukrainian refugees, of whom children comprised the overwhelming majority.
But for those who are the most harmless, we must always continue to do more.
The images of vicious Russian attacks on a civilian residential apartment complex in Dnipro, where a child perished as almost nothing remained standing, are a testament of the turn this conflict has made. The atrocities of this war are sparing no one. There is a real humanitarian tragedy unfolding before our eyes, just outside our EU border. We cannot tacitly accept this barbarous violence against children at the hands of adults. As the EU, we have a sacred obligation to protect them. Because if we fail children, we fail our societies and everything that we stand for.
This humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding just outside of our EU borders, is not just collateral damage from the war. We must acknowledge that it is part of an intentional strategy by the Kremlin aimed at those who are the most vulnerable: children.
These are the brutal facts: Russian soldiers have abducted over 16,000 Ukrainian children to Russia, separating them from their homes and families. Russian officials have forcibly transferred these defenceless children and have exploited them for propaganda purposes
We must be crystal clear: these crimes are part of a long-term plan by Putin to wipe out the identity of Ukraine as a nation. Russian government authorities are operating at least 43 camps where these deported children are being so-called “re-educated” to become Russian citizens.
Other Ukrainian children have forcibly been sent for adoption into Russian families, traumatised by the war and separated from their own families.
The number of children abducted is appalling and these horrors contradict all international treaties on the rights of children and international humanitarian law. As the European Parliament emphasised in its resolution on “One year of Russia’s invasion and war of aggression against Ukraine” of 16 February 2023, forcibly transferring children of a group to another group constitutes a war crime.
This view has been made indisputable by the arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin, issued by the International Criminal Court in March for his role in the deportation of children. If anyone still had any doubts: Putin is a war criminal.
Against this horrifying backdrop, we have a moral duty as European Union. All of our institutions, all of the member states, must unite in emphatically condemning the repeated war crimes and indiscriminate violence perpetrated at the hand of the Russian troops. We must never stop shedding light on the horrendous acts committed against children.
While our European efforts to provide all the material support that Ukraine needs remain key, the European Union must therefore not turn a blind eye to the human tragedy of this conflict. In unison with the international community as a whole, the EU should interfere and hold those responsible for the deportation of children accountable.
It is essential that the entire international community join forces, from policy-makers, legislators and civil society organisations, to ensure that children are not forgotten. We must lay out a concrete plan that ensures all suffering children in Ukraine are given a real opportunity to excel in life.
As one year of conflict has already passed, with almost no signs of appeasement in the near future, the EU is now called upon to show leadership to address the plight of Ukrainian children, making sure that no one is left behind.
It is our duty to provide these children with concrete answers, to build a system in which they are properly protected, and to bring those accountable for their suffering to justice.
Gepubliceerd op 19/04/2023 in EU Observer.