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Ukraine’s UN ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya on Monday accused Russian forces of abducting more than 120,000 children from Ukraine, and said Moscow appears to be making it easier for Russian families to adopt the war orphans.
Addressing the UN Security Council, Mr Kyslytsya spoke of "the fact that the invaders have already taken more than 121,000 children" from Ukraine, mostly from the bombed-out port city of Mariupol.
He said the Russians were moving the children to separatist-held Donetsk and Taganrog, a nearby Russian city on the Sea of Asov.
“Russia is reported to have drafted a bill to simplify and accelerate the procedure for the adoption of abducted Ukrainian children, both orphans and those who have parents and other relatives,” Mr Kyslytsya told diplomats in New York.
“These actions flagrantly violate” international rules on protecting children, he said.
The claims, originally made last week by Ukrainian human rights official Lyudmila Denisova, could not be independently verified.
Manuel Fontaine, the emergencies chief for the UN agency for children, Unicef, said on Monday that he had “heard the same reports” about abductions but had seen “no evidence” to support the claims.
Mr Kyslytsya also accused Russian troops of burning bodies of civilians in “mobile crematoriums” to conceal evidence of war crimes around Mariupol, which has been under siege for seven weeks and could fall in days.
Moscow’s soldiers were torching corpses to avoid damaging publicity, after recent discoveries of slain civilians in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv from which Russian forces recently withdrew, he told diplomats.
“In an attempt to cover up the killings of thousands of civilians in [Mariupol] and to prevent Bucha-like publicity, Russian troops are reported to be deploying mobile crematoriums to burn dead bodies of civilians,” Mr Kyslytsya said.
“Again, the historical associations are easily traceable,” he said, in an apparent reference to Nazi-era camps.
At the same meeting, Moscow’s deputy UN envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy rejected accusations of Russian abuses and accused western powers of a smear campaign.
Some Ukrainians had welcomed Russian soldiers as liberators, Mr Polyanskiy said.
Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, a “special military operation”.
It claims the invasion was needed to "de-Nazify" Ukraine's government and halt the eastward expansion of the western military alliance, Nato.
Diplomats met in New York against a backdrop of continuing bloodshed in Ukraine, where Russia is expected to launch a huge offensive in the east of the country after its advance on the capital Kyiv was repelled.
The UN’s advocate for women, Sima Bahous, told the council of ever more reports of rape and sexual abuse amid Russia’s advance in Ukraine, where large numbers of conscripts and mercenaries raised “all red flags”.
Ms Bahous, director of UN Women, returned on Sunday night from Moldova, where she met “anxious, fearful, tearful” women among the 95,000 civilians who have fled from the war in Ukraine.
“We are increasingly hearing of rape and sexual violence,” said Ms Bahous, a Jordanian. “These allegations must be independently investigated to ensure justice and accountability.
"The combination of mass displacement with a large presence of conscripts and mercenaries and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians has raised all red flags.”