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'Not Enough': Ukrainians React To ICC Arrest Warrant, War Crimes Charges Against Putin For Illegal Deportations Of Ukrainian Children

Children gesture as they are evacuated from the Russian-occupied town of Kupyansk town on the outskirts of Kharkiv, on May 30, 2022.
Children gesture as they are evacuated from the Russian-occupied town of Kupyansk town on the outskirts of Kharkiv, on May 30, 2022.

KYIV -- Ukrainians have reacted with a mix of support and skepticism to news that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued warrants for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a Russian children's rights official for their roles in alleged war crimes relating to the illegal transfers and deportations of children from occupied Ukrainian territories to Russia.

Anton Buryak, a 21-year-old construction worker from Novomykhaylivka, an occupied town in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, told RFE/RL that he supports this decision "because Putin's war crimes did take place."

"I personally know of cases of children being forcibly taken to Russia from the occupied territories," he said on March 18.

The permanent war crimes tribunal's move, announced on March 17, accuses Putin on three charges of "individual criminal responsibility" for the alleged war crimes carried out on Ukrainian territory occupied Russia from "at least" February 2022.

The court also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for children's rights in Putin's presidential office, on two similar charges relating to the same time period.

WATCH: Sixteen Ukrainian children taken by Russia have been reunited with their families in Kyiv. The return operation was organized by the charity foundation Save Ukraine.

Ukrainian Children Taken By Russia Reunite With Their Families In Kyiv
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"There are reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children," the ICC said in announcing the arrest warrants.

Buryak and other Ukrainians who spoke to RFE/RL in Kyiv expressed doubts about the decision's reach, however, considering the ICC has no jurisdiction over Russia and the fact that Moscow does not recognize the international court.

"Will Putin and Lvova-Belova face justice? I don't know," said Buryak, who left his hometown two months after Russia's all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

"America does not recognize this court anyway," he said. "This war is terrible, and I don't know how it will end. If it was so easy, Putin would be already in jail. His soldiers, those murderers from Bucha and elsewhere, should be in jail, too."

Anton Buryak
Anton Buryak

The 123-member ICC is not part of the United Nations and does not have its own police force, making it dependent on the court's member states to carry out the warrants it issues.

Neither Russia, the United States, China, nor Ukraine is a member of the ICC, although Kyiv granted the court jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes on Ukrainian territory following Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Russia was a signatory to the 1998 Rome Statute that led to the formation of the ICC in 2002, but it never ratified the statute. In 2016, two years after Russia's first invasion of Ukrainian territory that resulted in the illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, Putin signed a decree precluding Russia from joining the ICC.

The United States became a signatory to the Rome Statute in 2000 but withdrew its signature two years later.

Roma, a 35-year-old sales manager who spoke to RFE/RL on condition that his last name not be used, expressed skepticism about the ICC's ability to carry out its arrest order.

"Russia, China, and the United States do not recognize the legitimacy of the ICC, so I don't think it will matter," Roma said. "I think it is just an informational campaign. It won't have any practical consequences."

The arrest warrants nevertheless came a surprise to many Ukrainians, including 31-year-old health-care analyst Nazar Beley.

"I am completely for it. I don't know if or when the arrest will happen, but it is a just decision," Beley told RFE/RL in Kyiv. "I didn't think it would happen, because Putin is a head of state, and such cases are rare."

Putin is now only the third person to be the subject of an ICC arrest warrant while serving as head of state, joining Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.

Beley underscored the significance of the arrest warrants, however.

"This decision shows what the world -- 120 countries or so -- thinks about this bastard," he said. "To do what Russia does in Ukraine in the 21st century is an aberration. They took away children forcefully. Kids are an unprotected category, and we need to fight for their rights."

Kyiv has repeatedly made claims that Russia has forcibly deported or transferred Ukrainian children from Ukrainian territory occupied by Russian forces.

Nazar Beley
Nazar Beley

Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office has recorded the forced deportations of more than 16,000 Ukrainian children from areas of the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, and Kherson while under Russian occupation. At least 308 Ukrainian children have reportedly been allowed to return to Ukraine.

Amnesty International has documented cases of the forced transfer or deportation of Ukrainian civilians, including children, from areas occupied by Russian forces to other occupied Ukrainian territories or to Russia itself. The international rights watchdog has said the transfers and deportations amount to "war crimes and likely crimes against humanity."

Amnesty International also said Russia has simplified the process for Ukrainian children to obtain Russian citizenship once in Russia by alleging the children were "either orphans or without parental care."

"This was meant to facilitate the adoption of these children by Russian families, in violation of international law," Amnesty International said in a November report.

Tetyana Klushnichenko, a 63-year-old pensioner, told RFE/RL that the ICC's steps to arrest Putin and Lvova-Belova still fall short.

"This is not enough, because what Putin is doing is beyond human description. Why is he torturing our young nation? Why are they stealing our children?" Klushnichenko said. "Don't they have their own orphans to take care of?"

Klushnichenko expressed hope that the ICC's action would send a signal to the rest of the world, which she accused of remaining silent when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed separatist forces fighting against Kyiv in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

"I hope this decision will make people understand that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine," she said. "I believe those responsible will face justice. In any case, it is good that the world is not silent and indifferent like in 2014."

Written by RFE/RL correspondent Michael Scollon based on reporting from Kyiv by Ukraine-based journalist Aleksander Palikot and contributions from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
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    Aleksander Palikot

    Aleksander Palikot is a Ukraine-based journalist covering politics, history, and culture. His work has appeared in Krytyka Polityczna, New Eastern Europe, Jüdische Allgemeine, and beyond.

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