The forced transfers of Ukrainian children to Russia amount to “genocide”, the Council of Europe said on Thursday, in a resolution adopted by its Parliamentary Assembly which brings together deputies from 46 countries.

“The documented evidence of this practice meets the international definition of genocide,” the Council of Europe said in a statement after voting on the text that “requires” the repatriation of children.

On March 17, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin for these deportations. The Hague-based court also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian commissioner for children.

Kyiv estimated in early April that more than 16,000 Ukrainian children had been “kidnapped” and taken to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, with many believed to have been placed in foster homes.

According to the resolution adopted Thursday, there is “evidence” that the deported children faced a process of “Russification” through re-education in Russian language, culture and history.

These transfers are “clearly planned and organized in a systematic manner” as state policy and are intended “to annihilate all ties and features of their Ukrainian identity”, according to the text.

On Twitter, the Ukrainian president’s wife, Olena Zelenska, welcomed the resolution, saying it was “a step closer to the possibility of a trial” before international justice.

The Council of Europe has also called for the UN and the Red Cross to have access to Russia to collect information on deported children, and urged states to collect evidence of crimes – including genocide – which could have been committed.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) mentions the “forcible transfer of children” among its defining criteria.

Following its invasion of Ukraine, Russia was expelled from the Council of Europe, a body that serves as a human rights watchdog on the continent.