Read Maria Lvova-Belova’s social media, and one might think Russia is selflessly delivering Ukrainian children from evil into the care of Russian families desperate to share their love.
But according to American and European governments — and a new report by Yale investigators, backed by the US State Department — she is at the center of a Russian government scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, often to a network of dozens of camps, where the minors undergo political reeducation.
“Maria Lvova-Belova is one of the most highly involved figures in Russia’s deportation and adoption of Ukraine’s children, as well as in the use of camps for ‘integrating’ Ukraine’s children into Russia’s society and culture,” the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab’s Conflict Observatory wrote.
Lvova-Belova, who was appointed to be President Vladimir Putin’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights in 2021, created her Telegram channel days after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Between photos alongside the who’s who of Russian power — from Putin to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov — she posts glossy photos and videos of the wonderful life supposedly being offered to Ukrainian children.
“By the end of the week, one hundred and eight orphans of Donbass who have received Russian citizenship will have parents,” Lvova-Belova wrote in a typical post on her Telegram channel last July, using the Russian spelling for Ukraine’s Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk) regions. “Shurochka was the first to be handed over to her mother. When I heard this happy child’s laughter, I could not hold back [tears].”
Lvova-Belova regularly visits Russian occupied-Ukraine, and the Russian government boasts of her personally escorting planeloads of children back from Ukraine. Putin has empowered Lvova-Belova to use unspecified “additional measures” to identify children who don’t have parental care in the four Ukrainian regions it claims to have annexed.
UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s organization, has said that “adoption should never occur during or immediately after emergencies,” and that during upheaval, children separated from their parents cannot be assumed to be orphans. The UN furthermore considers forcibly transferring another country’s population within or beyond its borders to be a war crime.
Russia has characterized reports of forcible relocation as “absurd” and said it does its “best” to keep minors with their families.
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