Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council that her agency, OHCHR, is investigating allegations that young people have been taken from orphanages in Donbas, where Russia has been steadily gaining ground amid fierce fighting in recent weeks.
“OHCHR can’t confirm these allegations yet or the number of children who could be in such a situation,” said Ms Bachelet. “We are concerned about the alleged plans of the Russian authorities to allow the transfer of children from Ukraine to families in the Russian Federation. that do not appear to include family reunification steps or respect the best interests of the child†
Before the Russian invasion on February 24, there were more than 91,000 children in orphanages, boarding schools and other institutions in Ukraine for young people, according to UN Children’s Fund UNICEF.
In a statement, the UN agency said it was aware of reports that Russia “may” amending existing legislation to facilitate accelerated adoptionn” for orphans from the Donbas.
“UNICEF believes that adoption should never take place during or immediately after emergencies† Children separated from their parents during a humanitarian emergency cannot be considered orphans. All opportunities must be given for family reunification.”
At a press conference in Kiev on Wednesday, the Commission of Inquiry for Ukraine – which was set up by the Human Rights Council in March at the request of member states – said that the testimonies it had received indicated that “a significant number of children have disappeared in temporarily occupied territories, especially children from institutions”.
At the moment, however, there is “no clear evidence” about the number of missing youth from state-run centers, and it is very difficult to confirm the reports that they were brought to Russia and given citizenship, said Jasminka Dzumhur, a of the three researchers who are part of the panel.
At a scheduled press conference in the Ukrainian capital to mark the investigators’ first visit to the country, the inquiry’s chairman Erik Mose said the panel had traveled to Bucha, Irpin, Kharkiv and Sumy, sites where war crimes are committed. committed.
“In Bucha and Irpin, the Commission received information about the indiscriminate killing of civilians, destruction and looting of property, as well as attacks on civilian infrastructure, including schools,” said Mr Mose.
“In the Kharkiv and Sumy region, the Commission has observed the destruction of major urban areas, allegedly as a result of aerial bombardment, shelling or rocket attacks on civilian targets.”
In line with its mandate, the Commission has also heard stories from internally displaced persons, including those from eastern Ukraine, which it intends to investigate further.
These testimonies include “stories of civilian property destruction, looting, incarceration, assault and disappearance of civilians, as well as reports of rapes and other forms of sexual abuse,” said Commissioner Ms Dzumhur.
Mr Mose described the panel’s 10 days of work as “productive” and noted that individuals had shared their “painful stories” which, if confirmed, “can support claims that serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law have been committed in the areas, which may lead to war crimes and crimes against humanity†
In the coming weeks and months, the Commission will visit other parts of Ukraine before updating the Human Rights Council in September.