The Disappeared

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Russian lawmaker Oleg Morozov of the pro-government United Russia political party, the largest in the country, was recently sharing his thoughts on a Rossiya-1 state television talk show. Speaking to pro-Kremlin TV host Olga Skabeyeva, he asked: what if Russian agents kidnapped a NATO country defense minister while they were visiting Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy? The minister would wake up, shocked, in Moscow.

“You mean we abduct them?” Skabeyeva responded, according to Reuters.

“Yes,” Morozov answered. “And then we would sort out who gave which order for what, who is responsible for what exactly. It is not such a mythical picture … There are new rules in the world now. Let all those war ministers gathering in Kyiv think a little about what it would be like to wake up in Moscow.”

This comical political rhetoric alludes to but also elides the horrific recent history of kidnappings in the Russo-Ukrainian War. “All over Ukraine, people are missing, forcing families to become detectives,” went the headline of a Washington Post story about Ukrainians seeking to solve the fates of around 9,000 missing loved ones who have disappeared since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. Authorities are simultaneously investigating 13,000 alleged war crimes in the same period.

Sometimes the kidnappings are designed to intimidate Ukrainians living in a war zone, as France 24 explained, referring to Ukrainians who were detained, abused and tortured because they spoke out against Russian occupation. Russian forces have also made a point to “disappear” Ukrainian local officials, like mayors, who might organize resistance movements, Vox noted.

But Britain recently imposed further sanctions on Russia to signal disapproval over Russian forces abducting Ukrainian children and giving them to Russian families, the Guardian reported. The sanctions include Maria Lvova-Belova, a Putin ally who is the Russian children’s rights commissioner. She stands accused of running a state-sanctioned abduction program. Ukrainian officials claim that Lvova-Belova has masterminded the kidnappings of more than 2,000 children.

Russia has also taken other measures to absorb Ukrainians and wipe out their identities. As the Daily Beast noted, Russian occupiers of the Ukrainian city of Kherson recently decreed that all children born in the region since the invasion started would automatically be considered citizens of Russia. These measures are common throughout history when powerful nationalist forces seek to erase communities who don’t fit in with their plans, wrote University of South Carolina Law Professor Marcia Zug in the Conversation.

What’s inconvenient for them, though: Just because people disappear doesn’t mean they will be forgotten.

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