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August 7, 2023

Q&A with Vladyslav Havrylov, Research Fellow with the Collaborative on Global Children's Issues at Georgetown University

In this interview with Vladyslav Havrylov, a research fellow with the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues at Georgetown University, Havrylov discusses his research on the forcible transfer, deportation, adoption, and re-education of Ukrainian children by Russia.

Vladyslav Havrylov
Vladyslav Havrylov

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on the mass deportations of Ukrainians from the occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army on February 24, 2022. These forced deportations affect both Ukrainian adults and children, who are the most vulnerable part of the population. Another topic of my research is the study of the forced militarization and Russification of Ukrainian children in places of deportation, as this is a criminal act in an attempt to destroy their national identity. It is worth noting that deportations by Russia have been carried out earlier in history, in particular during the Soviet Union. Drawing parallels between past crimes and the present is another area of my research.

Why does this research interest you, both personally and professionally?

This study is extremely important from two perspectives. First, it is to find, analyze, and investigate the facts of the forced removal of Ukrainian citizens, including children, from the occupied territories of Ukraine. We need to know where they are being held and the conditions of their detention. We need to find out whether they have any contact with their families and work out options for their return. In other words, the primary goal is to find and return deported Ukrainians home. The return of deported Ukrainians, especially children, is personally an important goal for me.

Second, the purpose of the study is to cover the topic for the international media to tell about the unprecedented case of mass abduction of Ukrainians to the aggressor country, which is a war crime. All of this evidence of forced deportation should become the base for the future tribunal of Russian war criminals. The fact that they will be held accountable for forced deportations is a professional goal in my work because unpunished evil, as we know from history, repeats itself.

What is your understanding of Russia’s goal in forcibly deporting, transferring, adopting, and re-educating Ukrainian children?

The main goal pursued by Russia in committing these crimes is to take away Ukraine's future generation of children and create a demographic crisis that will make Ukrainian resistance impossible. That is why it must be stopped. These actions also show that the Russians are trying to re-educate Ukrainian children in the spirit of Russian propaganda and militarize them in order to raise future Russian soldiers who will not remember their roots and will again carry out aggression against Ukraine. This is evidenced by the fact that deported Ukrainian children are involved in paramilitary Russian organizations such as the Yunarmiya, the Vympel youth club, and the Vagnerenok "leadership" club. There are also known facts of illegal adoption of Ukrainian children, teaching them Russian history lessons, and propagating false information about Russia's role in the invasion of Ukraine.

How are you conducting your research? Is it difficult to gather information about this practice?

I conduct my research using academic searches and analyses, as well as through open-source intelligence (OSINT) technologies that I have learned to search for information in more depth. Indeed, the Russians often hide information about deportations, disguising the fact of deportations in words such as "evacuation," "displacement," and "refugee assistance." Such statements in the Russian media are part of the information war against Ukraine. However, having experience in working with information, we can find many facts that confirm the deportations of Ukrainians, including children from occupied territories. More details about such cases can be found in my articles, as well as on the website of the Where Are Our People? project, where I am a researcher and author of articles.

Russia is violating numerous international treaties and norms, including the Geneva Conventions. How should the international community respond to this?

The international community must be closely involved and proactive as this is an international crime. The United Nations, UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and other relevant structures should have this topic on their everyday agenda. It should be raised every time a meeting or a summit is convened to track the development of the issue. The international community should come up with an effective response, not limiting itself to condemning the practice of forcible transfer and deportation, but also inventing and applying prevention mechanisms. Plus, they must punish the aggressor country as well as individual criminals complicit in the crime of forcible transfer and deportation. It is high time to upgrade practices that have failed to work.

The international community should also seek to establish and support a coordination body or mechanism to unite and sync the activities of many players fighting this issue: civil organizations, human rights organizations, state bodies, international security structures, and possibly the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Specifically, the international community should provide support, including funding, to frontline organizations in Ukraine such as Save Ukraine, Helping to Leave, and others that help repatriate the transferred or deported citizens, including children of Ukraine.

What interesting findings can you share about your research so far?

The research is ongoing, but one notable conclusion is that this is one of the largest cases of forced deportation ever known to history. Since February 24, 2022 alone, more than 2.8 million people have been deported from Ukraine, including tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of children. So far, about 20,000 children have been identified, and the rest are still being searched for. It is known that there are about 800 places in the Russian Federation where deported Ukrainians are housed, in more than 50 regions of the country, from the Rostov region to the Khabarovsk region. There are also such centers in Belarus, in particular in the Minsk and Gomel regions. Therefore, the search for information is a very difficult and time-consuming task.

This is not the first time Russia has forcibly deported Ukrainian civilians. Given this history, how do you think this issue will develop over the next year or couple of years? 

This is indeed not the first time that Russians have deported Ukrainians en masse. There were known mass deportations of Ukrainians in the 1930s, when Ukrainian peasants who disagreed with the Soviet collectivization policy were deported to Siberia. More than 200,000 people were victims of this. After that, the Soviet regime deported 1,173,000 people from the western regions of Ukraine from September 1939 to June 1941. After the end of World War II, the Soviet regime again conducted mass deportation from the west of Ukraine. This was called Operation West and focused on Ukrainians who supported the national liberation movement in the fight against the Soviet occupiers. There were more than 78,000 victims. These horrific repressions led to tragic consequences, as many of these people never returned home and died in a foreign land. 

After the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military forces in 2022, mass deportations have repeated and Ukrainian people, especially children, are again forcibly taken to Russia and Republic of Belarus. The January 16, 2023 Ukraine 5:00 AM Coalition report states that the number of deported Ukrainians to Russia varies from 2.8 to 4.7 million. The Children of War website indicates that 744,000 children have been deported based on open sources shared by the Russian Federation. Most likely, this figure is manipulated by Russian authorities, but there is reason to believe that the number of deported children could be much more. This is an unprecedented case in the history of such a large-scale war crime against children. 

Currently, the Children of War platform has confirmed 19,546 children who were deported from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. All other children will still have to be searched for, and there are about 800 "temporary accommodation centers" (which can be defined as forced camps) for deported Ukrainians in the Russian Federation. There are similar locations in Belarus. All these facts clearly show that the work to locate and return deported Ukrainian children and adults in particular will not end soon and may continue for many years.

How can students/faculty/Georgetown community learn more about this topic? 

I encourage those who are interested to view the July 12, 2023 webinar on “The Forcible Transfer and Deportation of Ukrainian Children by Russia: Search for Solutions” and read through the related resources for this event. There are also many articles and media reports devoted to the deportation of Ukrainians and the forced militarization and Russification of Ukrainian children, such as “How Many Ukrainians Have Been Deported to Russia since February 24, 2022?” (May 10, 2022), “Mass Forcible Deportations of Ukrainians From the Soviet Unity of Nations to Contemporary Russian War Crimes” (July 7, 2023), and the short YouTube documentary “Crimes of the Kremlin. Forced Russification of Ukrainian Children” (August 20, 2023).