Russia has agreed to return four Ukrainian children to their families as part of a deal brokered by Qatar. The youngest child is two years old, and the oldest is 17. This repatriation effort marks the start of a pilot scheme aimed at returning a greater number of children taken by Russia after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
Ukraine claims to have identified 20,000 children allegedly abducted by Russia, but many believe that the actual number of deportations is much higher. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, in March. It accused him and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children. Russia contended that its actions were purely humanitarian, asserting that it evacuated hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children to protect them from danger. Top officials scorned the indictment at the time.
The return of these four children will test a scheme that Qatar has been working on after holding talks with Moscow and Kyiv. A diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous due to the scheme’s sensitivity, disclosed this information to news agencies. It is hoped that further repatriations will follow if the first one is successful.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.
However, the process of getting these children out of Russia has been far from straightforward. In at least one case, a child had to travel back via Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. On Friday, a seven-year-old child reunited with their grandmother and arrived in Ukraine, while the families of the other three children expect them to arrive in Ukraine on Monday or Tuesday.
Kyiv claims that these children are among the thousands whom someone forcibly separated from their families, transported across the border into Russia, and subjected to efforts to strip them of their Ukrainian identity. Previous reports from the BBC have revealed that Ukrainian children in Russia frequently heard that there was nothing to return to in their country and that they experienced varying degrees of “patriotic” Russian education. In some cases, Ukrainian families had to make arduous journeys into Russia to reclaim their children.
Daria Gerasymchuk Statement
An estimated only about 400 Ukrainian children had returned before Qatar mediated the return of these four children. Daria Gerasymchuk, an adviser to the Ukrainian president for children’s rights and rehabilitation, has previously stated, “They want to separate children from their biological families, Russify these children, hide these children, and transfer them to another ethnic group.”
However, Ms. Lvova-Belova said in a post on her Telegram channel that work to reunite children with their families would continue. She quoted President Putin as saying, “We have never been against children being reunited with their families.” Russia has also committed to assisting with transportation and accommodation costs and conducting DNA analysis where necessary.
Qatari minister Lolwah Al Khater confirmed the mediation in a statement, describing the repatriations as “only a first step.” She expressed optimism about the commitment and openness demonstrated by both sides throughout the process, hoping that it would lead to further initiatives to de-escalate tensions and build trust between the two parties.