They came to the U.S. to tell their stories: their abduction by Russia and the cruelties they endured before they became the few, fortunate Ukrainian children finally returned home to their families.
Rostislav Lavrov, who’s now 18 years old, said when he repeatedly refused to sing Russia’s national anthem, he was given three weeks of solitary confinement. The humanitarian aid group Save Ukraine managed to bring him and more than 200 other children home. But Ukrainian officials estimate at least 20,000 of their peers are still being held by the Russians.
Ukraine’s top official tasked with the children's return, Dmytro Lubinets, is in Washington, D.C., asking for help.
"Genocide as a war crime has five elements," Lubinets told Scripps News. "One of them is forcibly transferring children from one ethnic group to another."
"Russians push for Ukrainian children to identify themselves as Russians," he said.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has introduced legislation allowing the president to expand sanctions to any Russians involved in “the illegal forced assimilation, adoption or placement in a foster home of Ukrainian children.”
"My legislation is to ensure that there are sanctions," Jackson Lee told Scripps News. "Real sanctions. Real pain that Russia feels by taking these children."
"You don't utilize children as a tactic or tool of war," she said.
SCRIPPS NEWS' JASON BELLINI: The longer this goes on, the harder it will be, am I correct?
DMYTRO LUBINETS: Yeah. You're absolutely right, that the children grow up and we can't confirm that exactly these children are Ukrainian.
That’s especially true of the nearly 50 babies Scripps News was first to report as having been abducted in 2022 from an orphanage in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson.
Their whereabouts remain unknown.
Ukraine wants the U.S. to do more to pressure Russia to return them.
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