Ukraine has opened more than 3,000 criminal cases over Russia’s alleged crimes against children in the country, including dozens of torture cases, Ukrainian prosecutors said Thursday.
The allegations include “murders, mutilations, abduction of children, forced displacement, deportation, sexual violence against children and kidnapping,” Yulia Usenko, head of the Department for the Protection of Children’s Interests and Combating Violence of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, told Interfax-Ukraine.
Usenko said these alleged crimes are “often combined with torture and illegal deprivation of liberty” and “pretrial investigation bodies and prosecutors document such crimes in more than 3,200 criminal proceedings.”
Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Ukrainian authorities, rights groups, international bodies and news organizations have documented an overwhelming body of evidence of alleged Russian war crimes and human rights abuses.
Russia has repeatedly denied these accusations of torture and human rights abuses.
According to Usenko, prosecutors documented 75 children who suffered various forms of torture at the hands of Russian forces.
She said 69 of them were located in the village of Yahidne, in Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region. The children were held in the basement of a school together with adults and their conditions and treatment, “is equated to torture,” Usenko said.
Isolated cases of child torture were also documented in the southern Kherson and northeastern Kharkiv regions, where children were “deprived of their freedom and subjected to physical torture,” Usenko said.
“They were actually in the torture chambers together with adults, it didn’t matter to the occupiers whether it was an adult or a minor child,” she added.
Some children were held because the Russians had claimed they spread information about the movement of Russian military equipment and its troops, Usenko said.
The reports of alleged torture against children came to light after some Ukrainian territories were retaken from occupying Russian forces.
These include 13 alleged cases of sexual violence against children, the youngest of which was a 4-year-old girl, Usenko said.
Russia did not immediately comment on Usenko’s interview.
Child pawns of Russia’s war
The treatment of Ukraine’s children by Russia has long been under international scrutiny.
In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.
The Russian government has defended the practice, saying they are saving the children and deny that the deportations are forced. The Kremlin has labeled the ICC’s actions as “outrageous and unacceptable.”
Lvova-Belova – Russian ombudswoman for children’s rights – and other Russian officials said in July that more than 700,000 Ukrainian children have been taken from from conflict zones in Ukraine to Russia since the beginning of the war.
Ukraine however, claims the children were illegally deported and that a much smaller number of children have been taken – an estimated 19,500.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had previously said “371 children have been returned to Ukraine from deportation. At the same time, we know for sure about at least 19,505 deported Ukrainian children, and this is only a part of all our little Ukrainians who are still with the enemy. And we must return them all.”
A report released in February detailed allegations of an expansive network of dozens of camps where children underwent “political reeducation,” including Russia-centric academic, cultural and, in some cases, military education.
A United Nations Security Council briefing last week focused on the war’s impact on Ukraine’s children, with the deportations and treatment of children taking center stage.
Since the war began, at least 545 children have been killed and nearly 17,000 injured, though the actual numbers are likely to be much higher, according to Rosemary DiCarlo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.
Ukraine’s representative to the UN Sergіy Kyslytsya said Russia has pursued a policy of mass abduction and forceful indoctrination of Ukrainian children since 2014.
“Russia’s aggression is about Ukraine’s future, and there is no future without children,” he said.
Last week, the US State Department rolled out new sanctions targeting more than a dozen individuals and entities involved in the forcible transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children.
The US had already sanctioned Lvova-Belova for her involvement in the scheme. The fresh measures target five Russian politicians who have been “involved in facilitation of the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia and their adoption by Russian families,” the State Department said.