With widely closed eyes: Crimes of Russia against Ukrainian children in the new report of the UN Secretary-General

On July 5, 2023, during the United Nations Security Council meeting, the annual report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of children’s rights in armed conflicts for the year 2022 was presented. The report included a separate section dedicated to the situation in Ukraine. Despite the alleged dissatisfaction of the Russian representative at the UN with the content of this report, it is often considered incomplete and attempting to portray Russia in a better light than it actually is. More details can be found in the material from the experts of the CCE Almenda, who have been documenting children’s rights violations during the Russian-Ukrainian war for nine years.

Who kills and maims Ukrainian children, or the selective vigilance of UN experts

The report provides statistical data on documented and verified UN violations concerning children. In the context of the Ukrainian-Russian war, 91 cases were recorded of children being used as human shields, hostages, and for gathering intelligence by the Russian Armed Forces (out of 92 cases overall). At least four boys were detained by the Russian Armed Forces and subjected to cruel treatment and/or torture (out of 6 documented cases). Out of the recorded 1386 cases, 658 (136 killed and 518 injured) are attributed to the Russian Armed Forces and “affiliated armed groups” (the specific groups are not directly specified in the text). Additionally, 473 children (261 killed and 212 injured) were killed or injured as a result of airstrikes, without specifying the armed forces of which country were responsible. 480 out of 751 attacks on schools and hospitals are also attributed to the Russian Armed Forces and “affiliated armed groups.” 91 children (out of the documented UN cases) were abducted by the Russian Armed Forces. The UN also documented 10 incidents of denial of humanitarian access by the Russian Armed Forces. It is emphasized that the provided figures are approximate and not final.

At the end of the report, the UN Secretary-General expresses “concern” about the number of serious violations regarding children committed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, although the figures presented show that their number is significantly lower than those attributed to Russia. While the text also mentions Russia’s obligations to comply with the norms of international humanitarian law and human rights law during the Russian-Ukrainian war, at the end of the report, Russia and its “affiliated armed groups” (again without specifying which groups) are included in the list of countries that “took measures during the reporting period to improve the protection of children.” The specific measures taken are not clarified, but it is mentioned that during a rocket attack by Russia on a civilian object in Kramatorsk on June 27, 2023, three children were killed. It is worth noting that, according to data from the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office (as of July 12, 2023), since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, 494 children have been killed, and 1052 have been injured (data is approximate), and the exact number of deported children remains unknown.

An agreement with the devil or UN cooperation with the kidnapper of Ukrainian children, Maria Lvova-Belova

In May 2023, reports emerged that the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, visited Moscow on a working visit, where she met with Maria Lvova-Belova, the authorized representative of the President of Russia for children’s rights. International Criminal Court (ICC) had issued an arrest warrant against Lvova-Belova in March 2023, suspecting her of facilitating the abduction of Ukrainian children and their transportation to Russia. The US State Department and the human rights organization Human Rights Watch expressed their outrage over this visit. The official position of the UN on these accusations is as follows: While meeting with Maria Lvova-Belova, who is sought by the ICC for the abduction of Ukrainian children and essentially involved in these processes, the UN Secretary-General’s representative acted “in the best interests of children and in accordance with her own mandate.”

The UN Secretary-General, as the direct supervisor of Virginia Gamba, welcomes the “cooperation of the government of the Russian Federation with my Special Representative for ending and preventing serious violations of children’s rights” and the “practical measures that have been taken.” How exactly the official visit of the UN representative and communication with the ICC-wanted person could improve the situation of Ukrainian children remains a mystery.

We would like to remind that according to the official calculations of the Ukrainian government, more than 19,499 children were forcibly displaced to Russian territory since February 24, 2022 (with approximate estimates suggesting the actual number of deported children could reach 300,000).

See also: State-kidnapper: How Russia kidnaps Ukrainian orphans and raises them as Russians

As of June 19, 2023, only 373 children were successfully returned, thanks to the efforts of Ukrainian activists, government authorities, and organizations, without direct intervention from the UN. The children who were successfully brought back to Ukraine reported instances of mistreatment by the Russian side, threats of being put up for adoption in Russian families, and physical punishment for refusing to sing the Russian anthem and other unlawful methods of re-education. Whether these issues were discussed during the meeting between the chief advocate for children and the main abductor of Ukrainian children remains unknown.

Challenges of translation

The comparison between the Russian and English versions of the report is very interesting (note: each UN document is published in six official languages, including English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian). This report is also published in all UN languages, and the Russian version “causes deep concern,” using the language of this document. For example, in the English version, paragraph 315 is presented as follows:

“Rape (1) and other forms of sexual violence (2) perpetrated against three girls between the ages of 4 and 17 were verified and attributed to the Russian armed forces in Kyiv region (2) and Chernihiv region.”

In the Russian version, the same paragraph is presented as follows:

“Verified cases of rape (1) and other forms of sexual violence (2) against three girls aged 4 to 17 in the Kyiv region (2) and Chernihiv region (1) attributed to the Russian Armed Forces.”

In the English language, the idiom “to attribute to” means “to believe or say that a situation or event is caused by something” (according to the Longman dictionary). In the Russian version of the report, the semantic emphasis in this paragraph appears to be deliberately shifted — the word “verified” is placed in a different part of the sentence, whereas in the English and French versions, these two words are together. Instead of the Russian word “вменять” (recognize someone’s involvement in something), the verb “приписывать” (to attribute) is used, which has a more negative connotation in the Russian language (in one of the dictionaries, it is defined as “adding false information to any official document with some selfish purpose”). This creates an impression that it has not been confirmed that these cases of sexual violence were committed by the Russian military, although such a message is present in other versions.

The UN Commission on the investigation of crimes in Ukraine by the Secretary-General also detailed cases of sexual violence committed by the Russian army in the occupied Kyiv region. Thus, even the Russian version of the report is effectively used as a weapon in Russia’s information warfare, sowing doubts about Russia’s crimes in the temporarily occupied territories.

Pro-Russian narratives are also evident in the use of grammatical forms — particularly in paragraphs 9, 322, 324, and on page 69 of the Russian version of the report, where the expression “на Украине” (on Ukraine) is used instead of “в Украине” (in Ukraine), which Russians mostly use to confirm Ukraine’s colonial status relative to Russia.

It should also be noted that although the names of “affiliated armed groups” with Russia were not mentioned in the report, the definition of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is quite interesting. According to the UN’s version, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are “linked to Ukrainian militias and combatants” (in the English version: “militias,” and in the French version: “des milices”). Who these “Ukrainian militias” are and how they became part of the Armed Forces, to which according to the relevant Ukrainian law, no “militias” belong, remains known only to the author of the report.

(Un)forgotten crimes

The report by the UN Secretary-General does not contain a comprehensive list of violations against children that occur during the Russian-Ukrainian war, and those that are considered elegantly avoid addressing the involvement of Russian forces. For instance, in the context of killings and mutilations, there is no mention of the Russian military’s use of prohibited methods of warfare, such as leaving landmines disguised as children’s toys in occupied territories. One such “gift” was described by a resident of Bucha, musician Mariana Hlieva, on her Facebook page, reporting that Russian soldiers hid an explosive device inside a little girl’s piano when leaving the city. In the report, the killings and mutilations from indiscriminate shelling are attributed to unidentified actors, and Russia’s direct involvement in these incidents also does not receive appropriate attention.

Regarding the deportation of Ukrainian children to the territory of the Russian Federation, the report does not mention the mass nature of the forced displacement of Ukrainian children to that country. The main message to immediately stop the exportation of children to the Russian territory is also absent, and only measures to ensure the best interests of such children and facilitate their reunification with their families are mentioned. The report does not address the children who have already been adopted by Russian families and the steps to ensure their return to Ukraine, particularly the orphaned children without relatives in Ukraine, for whom the state acts as a guardian. The topic of Russia’s unlawful practices regarding the re-education and eradication of Ukrainian identity in such children also did not find a place in the report.

Regarding child recruitment, the report mentions documented cases of the Russian army using children as informants and cooks but does not comprehensively address the creation of a recruitment base for Ukrainian children in the occupied territories by Russia, especially through the education system. In December 2022, experts from the Almenda Center emphasized that Russia is attempting to form its mobilization reserve by establishing centers of the military-patriotic movement Yunarmia on the occupied Ukrainian territories, militarizing education, and conducting military-patriotic camps. The state of education in the occupied Ukrainian territories was also left unaddressed in the report.

Regarding the denial of humanitarian access, 10 cases were recorded without any specific details. However, the denial of access “should be assessed from the perspective of children’s access to assistance and the ability of humanitarian agencies to reach vulnerable population groups, including children.” For example, due to deliberate shelling by the Russian army of critical infrastructure (including facilities providing electricity, water, and heat) during the fall-winter of 2022, thousands of Ukrainian children across the country were left without access to basic needs. The Russian leadership openly explained that the shelling of critical infrastructure was a planned tactic of waging war against Ukraine (which contradicts the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly prohibit such actions). However, these facts are also absent from the report, even though Russia’s actions were deliberately targeting civilian terror, including children. For instance, a 6-year-old girl from Kyiv who was forced to undergo intravenous therapy at a gas station after a blackout caused by Russian shelling.

Unfortunately, many aspects of serious violations against children have been overlooked by the Secretary-General, which significantly simplifies the perception of the horrors experienced by Ukrainian children due to the Russian war. The absence of such a comprehensive picture in such an important document sets a dangerous precedent that should not be repeated in the future.


Overall, the report of the UN Secretary-General is deeply disappointing. Despite all efforts by the Ukrainian human rights community, diplomatic institutions, and international actors to highlight Russia’s crimes in Ukraine, the report focuses on illusory (and visible only to the highest UN leadership) efforts by Russia to alleviate the situation of children during the war. Many aspects of violations of children’s rights during the Russian-Ukrainian war are not mentioned in the report at all, and the Russian version of the report deliberately shifts the focus and uses colonial language. Such an approach by the UN to document violations against children not only fails to reflect the real situation of children during the Russian-Ukrainian war but also appeases the aggressor country, which continues to kill, maim, and abduct Ukrainian children on a daily basis. Therefore, the answer to whether the current efforts of UN high officials are aimed at the benefit of Ukrainian children or de facto whitewashing the aggressor country is evident. And Ukrainian children remain the most vulnerable victims of the current war, which has already claimed too many lives.

Originally posted by Anastasia Vorobyova on LB. ua. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: Rashism in action: How Russia is waging war against Ukrainian children

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