Deportation of Ukrainians in the spotlight of the world community

Russia has been conducting mass forcible deportations of Ukrainians for centuries. 

It is the practice of imperialism over occupied territories. Throughout the 20th century, millions of Ukrainians have been evicted from their homes and forcibly relocated into the depths of Russia. Over the past 2022, millions of Ukrainians have been deported illegally. Once again. The difference between those two deportation eras is the awareness of the world community of such actions. Many politicians and spokespeople from around the world have referred to the deportation as Russia’s war strategy. It is impossible to elaborate on peace until all the Ukrainians who have been deported are back. President Zelenskyy says that returning them is one of the ten conditions for the end of the war. If the world community and leaders speak and act about the issue, the chances of ending the war are possible.

Deportation itself is a forcible abduction and eviction of certain people or groups of people, with their subsequent relocation. Deportation serves multiple roles and appears in different ways. During wartime, military conflict, and/or regarding national policy (Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, etc.) deportation may constitute a crime against humanity (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 6 and 9), a war crime (Geneva Convention IV, Article 147), or be considered as a genocide (UN Genocide Convention, Article II (e)).

Since February 24, 2022, in the course of the Russian war against Ukraine, the official numbers of people forcibly deported from Ukraine may vary from one source to another. There are several reasons for that, such as relying on Ukrainians, Russian or independent statistics. Also, the war hasn’t ended yet and these numbers grow continuously. But even taking the divergence into account the numbers are terrifying: 

  • According to Ukrainian government portal Children of War, approximately 16 000 Ukrainian children have been separated from their families and deported to Russia, and only 300 have been returned to Ukraine. 
  • Dmytro Liubinets, Ukrainian Ombudsman, suggests 2,800 million of Ukrainians have been deported by Russian troops since February 24, 2022. 
  • According to UN, 2.5 million of Ukrainians have been unlawfully deported to the Russian Federation
  • The report of the Coalition “Ukraine. Five in the Morning” of January 16, 2023, states that the number of deported Ukrainians to Russia varies from 2.8 to 4.7 million, of whom 260 to 700 thousand are children 


In Russian media, deportation comes under such humanistic terms as “evacuation”, “temporary relocation”, “protection of citizens”. Though it is disinformation and substitution of terms used  to blur the forcible abduction and eviction of Ukrainians.

“Deportation itself as a phenomenon includes other violations of human rights and war crimes, such as torture, inhumane treatment, filtration measures that actually preceded the deportation,” said Alyona Lunyova, advocacy director of the Human Rights Centre ZMINA. 

Mass deportations of Ukrainians conducted by Russia serve several purposes:

  • Changing ethnic landscape of occupied territories of Ukraine, i.e., ethnic cleansing;
  • Eliminating Ukrainian identity;
  • Russifying Ukrainian children for further adoption by Russian families;
  • Solving the demographic crisis in Russia;
  • Cleaning temporary occupied territories of Ukraine and settling Russians there.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said that “Putin’s martial law in the annexed regions of Ukraine is preparation for the mass deportation of the Ukrainian population to areas of Russia in order to change the ethnic composition of the occupied territory.”

The Institute of the Study of War (ISW) continues to assess that the forced deportation of Ukrainian citizens to the Russian Federation likely amounts to a deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign. 

“Our intelligence sources confirm that Russia is really trying to commit another act of genocide, I won’t even call it a deportation because the forced, violent removal of Ukrainian citizens is an act of genocide, and of course, they [Russians] will be held accountable for this,” said Iryna Vereshchuk, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories.

Besides that, forcibly transferring children of one group to another group is a violation of Article II(e) of the Genocide Convention. Dariia Herasimchuk, stated that more than 13,000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly deported by Russians to the territory of the Russian Federation. And this, unfortunately, is not the final figure. She said, adding that “we still have to learn about at least tens of thousands of Ukrainian children who were stolen by the Russian authorities.”

International law unequivocally prohibits deportation within an occupied territory or from an occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power. This constitutes a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime under the Rome Statute of the ICC. International law and practice prohibit adoption during or immediately after emergencies. Ukraine adopted a moratorium on inter-country adoptions early in the war. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibit occupying powers from changing children’s personal status, including their nationality.

“All the evidence is there, before the eyes of public opinion in all countries, listed, documented, as for the Russian strikes on Ukrainian civilians used as weapons of war since the invasion of their country by Russia on February 24. The most vulnerable among them, minors, are victims of deportation. Teenagers who refuse to sing the Russian national anthem are taken to re-education camps. Under the Rome Statute, these facts constitute genocide and crimes against humanity.” said Emmanuel Daoud, expert on international criminal law and human rights

 Karim Khan, the International Criminal Court prosecutor, has stated in this regard that “Prosecutors investigating war crimes cases in Ukraine are examining allegations of the forcible deportation of children to Russia since the invasion as they seek to build a genocide indictment.”


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    Stages of deportation

    The Russian deportations of Ukrainians are carried out in four subsequent stages. 

    • Abduction, eviction, and/or kidnapping

    Upon seizing Ukrainian cities and villages, Russian soldiers evict people from bomb shelters, homes, and other places of hiding. They allow for up to an hour to pack belongings and documents. The eviction is forced, and anyone who disobeys is punished.

    Such “evacuations” are also conducted by limiting evacuation options. Russian soldiers and the authorities of the temporarily occupied territories let Ukrainians leave only along “evacuation” routes that lead to the Russian border or to the quasi-republics L/DNR. Whether deportations were voluntary may not be relevant when assessing their legality. Indeed, deportations can be ‘forcible’, even in the absence of physical force, through the creation by the Russian Federation of a coercive environment, such as the one caused by war-related violence, leaving residents with no other choice but to leave.

    There are also cases of Russians kidnapping children from orphanages, kindergartens, medical institutions, and other places where people under 18 years old live. They have also been taken by bus to filtration spots or filtration camps for further deportation to the territories of the Russian Federation or temporarily occupied Crimea.

    • Filtration

    After the eviction of civilians from temporarily occupied territories, Russian soldiers take people to filtration spots or filtration camps. There, Ukrainians are divided into two groups: women, children, and elderly people, and men aged 16–60.

    Filtration is a form of compulsory security screening, in which Russians collect Ukrainian civilians’ biometric data, including fingerprints and front and side facial images; conduct body searches, and search personal belongings and phones; and question them about their political views. Many Ukrainian civilians say they are kept in overcrowded and squalid conditions for as little as a few hours or for almost a month.

    “Filtration could be divided into three levels. The first is a quick check at the demarcation line or in a specific settlement. The second is transportation to filtration centers, where the inspection was thorough and conversations were held. The third level of filtration occurred when the Russians had certain suspicions, then people were detained and subjected to brutal interrogations and prolonged detention, such as in the case of the drivers who helped take people out of Mariupol. They actually went through this third level of filtration when they were sent to places of detention, in particular to a penal facility in Olenivka, from where some were released after being held for 60 or 90 days under the so-called arrest,” Tetiana Katrychenko, coordinator at the Media Initiative for Human Rights, explained

    • Displacement

    Those Ukrainians who passed filtration were taken to the Russian border and sent by train or bus to Kazan, Voronezh, or the Russian Far East. Upon arrival, they were usually placed in temporary accommodations (churches, boarding houses, schools, medical institutions) or placement centers for refugees. Monasteries, charitable institutions, and sports and recreation complexes are the most common places for deported Ukrainians to be resettled.

    “We have information that our Ukrainians have been resettled in 57 regions of Russia, including the Far East and Siberia. And we really find Ukrainians in all corners of Russia. We’re recording these facts, and it is obvious that this will be the basis of a special tribunal and the basis of charges against Russia and its officials,” said Iryna Vereshchuk, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories.

    • Russification

    During this process, Russian authorities often confiscate Ukrainian passports and coerce Ukrainians into signing agreements to stay in Russia, hindering their ability to return home. This is an apparent effort to change the demographic make-up of Ukraine.

    “Russia has taken numerous steps, such as simplifying the process of obtaining Russian citizenship to facilitate the adoption of some Ukrainian orphans and children without parental care, that strongly suggest an organized effort to absorb some members of these groups into Russian society. These actions indicate a deliberate Russian policy related to its deportation from Ukraine to Russia of some civilians, including children. Usually, deported Ukrainians are pressured to sign documents stating that they had witnessed war crimes by Ukrainian forces,” says an Amnesty International report.

    The Russian regime holds deported Ukrainians of all ages hostage and forces them to cooperate and witness against the Ukrainian government and army.

    The Russian authorities have unlawfully deported thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. Having gone through filtration camps, the children are taken away to unknown places, supposedly orphanages, or are illegally adopted by Russian families. Deported Ukrainian children are suffering in the places of their displacement. The Ukrainian Ombudsman, on 3 September 2022, claimed that more than 200 000 children had already been forcibly taken to the Russian Federation intending to make them available for adoption by Russian families and could verify the circumstances of the forced deportation of 7 000 Ukrainian children.


    Deported people become hostages of the Russian regime and are forced to cooperate and witness against their government. Peace negotiations are impossible until all deported Ukrainians are back.  Returning them back is one of ten mandatory conditions for the war end outlined by President Zelensky: “…we know by name 11 thousand children who were forcibly deported to Russia. They are separated from their parents in full knowledge that they have families. Apart from the children, whose data we know, there are tens of thousands of those who were forcibly deported and about whom we know only indirectly. Among them are many, whose parents were killed by Russian strikes, and now they are being held in the state that murdered them.”

    Peace negotiations are impossible until all deported Ukrainians are back. Returning deported Ukrainians back is one of ten mandatory conditions for the war to end.

    The only way to stop illegal deportations of Ukrainians is to continue supporting Ukraine and intervene into Russian deliberate policy of deportation. At Where Are Our People? we developed 8 ways how anybody can help to raise the issues of forcible deportation. Follow the link.

    Oleksii Havryliuk, author
    Anastasiia Krzhanovska, editor