Child abduction by Russia in wartime is nothing new

Children being snatched by Russian Soldiers during the Polish Uprising of 1830/31 (unattributed print)

Russian abduction of children in a time of war is nothing new!

One of the more disturbing features of the current war in Ukraine has been Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children, ostensibly in order to give them ‘better lives’ in Russia. In some cases the children have been sent to so called ‘Summer Camps’ from which they never returned home. Others taken have been described as ‘orphans’ despite the fact that they have easily identifiable relatives.  In March this year, Vladimir Putin was personally indicted as a war criminal by the ICC for the crime of child abduction.

Of course this sinister practice is a reprehensible attempt to brainwash these children, to ‘Russify’ them.  It is a convenient way to compensate in a small way, for the steady demographic fall in population being experienced by Russia, which has now been exacerbated by the emigration of thousands of people, often young and talented, who are unwilling to serve in the army, or countenance the current aggression.

Like so many features of the war, the practice of child abduction by Russia in time of war is not new.  When researching the Polish Uprising of 1830/31 for my current work in progress, Fortune’s Price, I was unsurprised to read how boys as young as seven were deported by an order made in March 1831 by the Russian Emperor Nicholas 1. These children were incorporated into special battalions of the Russian Army as so called ‘cantonists’, or child soldiers. This practice was immortalized in the unattributed print shown above. Several thousand of these children were apparently seized, and many ended up in the brutalized environment of Military Settlements.  After a series of bloody revolts in these settlements that occurred at the same time as the Polish revolt, even Nicholas came to realise that they should be abolished, but this did not mean the return of the children who had been seized.

Fortunately, this time around there are stories of Ukrainian parents recovering their children, whether through their own efforts, or by clandestine Russian organisations speeding their release. Nonetheless, it is feared that many may never return to their rightful homes.

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