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U.S. aims to hold Russia, Belarus accountable for Ukrainian children sent to Russia

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Thousands of Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the war in Ukraine began nearly two years ago. A new report now says Russia's ally and neighbor, Belarus, is participating in these operations. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports the U.S. is vowing to hold to account anyone involved.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Yale researcher Nathaniel Raymond says he's documented what he calls an industrial scale pipeline of child deportation from parts of Ukraine now occupied by Russia.

NATHANIEL RAYMOND: This was concerted, it was intentional and it involved both Russia and Belarus working together every step of the way.

KELEMEN: He's the executive director of the Yale School of Public Health's Humanitarian Research Lab, which gets funding from the State Department. Using open sources, the group found that 2,442 children between the ages of 6 and 17 have been taken to Belarus since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began more than a year and a half ago.

RAYMOND: The big mystery, Michele, in this investigation is where are those 2,442 kids now? The Lukashenko regime claims they've returned to Ukraine, and we have not been able to independently verify that.

KELEMEN: Raymond says Alexander Lukashenko's government in Belarus and Vladimir Putin's in Russia should comply with the Geneva Conventions and register the children with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Some of the children were disabled and particularly vulnerable, he says, and about a quarter of them went through some kind of military training and indoctrination.

RAYMOND: The organizations involved here are really startling, including two motorcycle clubs, one called the Night Valkyries and the other, the Night Wolves, and also, the involvement of a senior official of the Belarusian Red Cross Society and also, a swim club called The Dolphins.

KELEMEN: The report singles out some individuals who could land on U.S. sanctions lists. One top State Department official describes the child abductions as a, quote, "hideous crime" and says the U.S. will make sure anyone involved faces justice. The Yale researcher has been sharing his findings with the International Criminal Court.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.