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October 26, 2023

Responding To: Caring for Vulnerable Children

The Role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Forcible Deportation of Ukrainian Children

Vladyslav Havrylov, Research fellow, Georgetown University Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues

Since the beginning of a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the Russian Federation has been continuously committing war crimes, including the forced deportation of Ukrainians to the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus. Such actions, especially the deportation of children, should be qualified exclusively as a crime against humanity and may qualify as genocide.

One of the leading roles in this process belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), which, in close cooperation with the Russian government, is involved in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children to the territory of the Russian Federation, placing them in church charitable homes, monasteries, and recreational camps.

Number of Victims

It is worth noting that the deportation process was prepared by the Russian leadership in advance. This practice of the Russian occupiers is not new but continues the course of mass repression against the peoples that Russians have been trying to conquer since the days of the Russian Empire, and these criminal repressive practices were fully developed during the Soviet era.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 2.8 million Ukrainian citizens have crossed the border into the Russian Federation and another 16,705 Ukrainian citizens in the Republic of Belarus. It should be understood that these numbers are not final because the war continues, and the occupiers are constantly carrying out forced deportations of Ukrainian citizens.

If we try to find out the exact number of deported children, the data varies greatly, but the scale is impressive. The Children of War website indicates that 744,000 children have been deported based on open sources announced by the Russian Federation (probably including those deported since 2014). The platform identified 19,546 children who were deported from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine between February 2022 and July 2023. Officially, the number of children abducted by Russia who have been identified was mentioned by the president of Ukraine as about 20,000.

Collaboration between the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Government on Forcible Deportations

The Russian Orthodox Church began cooperating with the Russian government long before the full-scale war against Ukraine. In 2017, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow signed a cooperation agreement with the head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Russia, Vladimir Puchkov. Just after Russia launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Bishop Panteleimon, chairman of the Synodal Department for Charity and Social Service of the Russian Orthodox Church, met with Lieutenant General Oleg Manuilov, director of the Department of Civil Defense and Population Protection of the Russian Emergencies Ministry. The topic of their discussion was the terms of cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Emergencies Ministry.

This cooperation is one of the key partnerships between the ROC and the Russian government, as it was the ROC’s Department of Church Charity and Social Service that received letters with documents about the so-called "evacuation" that was in fact forcible deportation from the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia: the number of people who were "evacuated," train schedules for transportation to the territory of the Russian Federation, and files with information on the distribution of evacuees in temporary accommodation centers.

Funding for the Accommodation of Deportees in ROC Institutions

All fundraising for tthe Russian Orthodox Church is to be carried out only with the approval of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow for deposit in the relevant church accounts.

Thus, the website of the Moscow Patriarchate contains a Circular Letter indicating the beginning of the collection of "humanitarian aid" for displaced Ukrainians, with detailed information on what exactly needs to be collected and who is responsible for collecting these funds. For systematic fundraising, the Russian Orthodox Church has also created a special website to raise funds for deported Ukrainians to keep them in temporary accommodation centers in the Russian Federation.

It should be noted that many of these people have no contact with the Ukrainian side and are being held in forced deportation, including in monasteries and charitable homes of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Locations of Deported Ukrainians in Charitable Homes and Monasteries of the Russian Orthodox Church

The most well-known places of resettlement for deported Ukrainians are monasteries and charitable institutions of eparchies located in the border regions with Ukraine. 

Metropolitan Mercurius of Rostov placed above 500 children in the Romashka sports and recreation complex, located in the Neklinovsky district of the Rostov region; the children were deported and displaced from two boarding schools and a social rehabilitation center in the Donetsk region. There is also information about locations with deported Ukrainian children in the village of Manichskaya, Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, church refugee accommodation centers in the Assumption Monastery of the Tver Diocese, the diocesan mother and child center in Belgorod, the Kovalevsky orphanage of the Kostroma Diocese, Staritskiy Svyato-Uspenskiy Monastery, Gorniy Posad Orthodox Children's Camp, and other places. 

This is a testament to the thousands of children who have been deported from Ukraine to the church institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church.


All these facts show that the Russian Orthodox Church, unfortunately, is also an instrument of Russia's occupation policy and is actively involved in the mass deportations of Ukrainians, especially the most vulnerable population: children.

According to Christian dogma, children are closest to the Lord, so what the Russian Orthodox Church is doing in this regard is not only a war crime against Ukrainians, but also a hard sin for which it will have to answer. Children must be returned to their homes.

Vladyslav Havrylov is a research fellow with the Georgetown University Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues and a researcher with Where Are Our People?, an initiative tracking Ukrainians forcibly deported by Russia.

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