By Daphne Psaledakis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Thursday imposed sanctions on 13 people and entities it said are reportedly connected to the forced deportation and transfer of Ukraine's children, as Washington ramps up pressure on Moscow over its invasion.
The United States is also taking steps to impose visa restrictions on three Russia-installed purported authorities over their involvement in human rights abuses of Ukrainian minors, the State Department said in a statement.
The sanctions coincided with Ukraine's Independence Day.
"The United States will not stand by as Russia carries out these war crimes and crimes against humanity," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Thursday.
Ukraine's government estimates that Russian authorities have deported and/or forcibly displaced over 19,500 children from their homes since Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Russia U.N. ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council that the Western countries were lying about alleged abductions of Ukrainian children, adding that Russia was actually saving them.
Moscow says its program of bringing children from Ukraine into Russian territory is to protect orphans and children abandoned in the conflict zone.
"We urge Washington to stop cynical use of children matters to settle geopolitical scores," the Russian embassy to the U.S. said in a statement on Thursday commenting on new sanctions.
Among those hit with sanctions on Thursday was Artek, which the State Department said is a Russian government-owned "'summer camp' located in Russia-occupied Crimea."
The State Department said Artek has received Ukrainian children who are then placed in "'patriotic' re-education programs" and are prevented from returning to their families. Artek's director was also among those sanctioned on Thursday.
Also targeted was the advisor to the governor of Belgorod, the commissioners for children's rights in the Kaluga and Rostov regions, and the chairman of the government of the Chechen Republic, among others.
"The United States continues to demonstrate its commitment to promoting accountability for the atrocities and other abuses inflicted by Russia on the people of Ukraine," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The ICC issued arrest warrants in March for Putin and his children's commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, accusing them of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine - a war crime.
"We're going to keep calling attention to it, keep identifying the individuals and institutions involved, and keep a highlight on it until these kids are reunited with their families or in a community that reflects their proper upbringing. So we're just going to keep at it," James O'Brien, head of the State Department's Office of Sanctions Coordination, told Reuters.
The State Department on Thursday said that Russia uses a variety of methods to transfer children from Ukraine, including taking them from state institutions, deporting children during "filtration" operations where Ukrainian civilians are evaluated for their perceived threat to Russia's occupation, and by bringing them to supposed recreation camps in Crimea and Russia.
Thursday's action marks the latest round of sanctions Washington has imposed on Moscow since its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which has killed tens of thousands of people and reduced cities to rubble.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in New York; Editing by John Stonestreet, Mark Porter, Alistair Bell and Diane Craft)