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Russia about to conscript teen it kidnapped from Ukraine

First, Russia kidnapped Bogdan Ermokhin from occupied Mariupol, then it forcefully adopted him. In two weeks, it will likely send him to the Army as Russia scrambles to assemble manpower to keep invading Ukraine.
Bogdan Ermokhin. Photo: Bogdan Ermokhin via Telegram
Russia about to conscript teen it kidnapped from Ukraine

During the early stages of the full-scale invasion, 17-year-old Bogdan Ermokhin was forcibly moved from occupied Mariupol to Russia. He was placed with a foster family, given a Russian passport, and prevented from escaping to Ukraine.

On 24 October 2023, Bogdan met with Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Tatyana Moskalkova. According to Bogdan’s lawyer, Kateryna Bobrovska, he expressed his desire to return to Ukraine and live with his legal guardian, his sister. Although Moskalkova promised his release, he remains unable to leave. The process is impeded by Russia’s Child Rights Ombudsman, Maria Lvova-Belova, who, along with Vladimir Putin, faces charges at the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes related to the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. 

Bogdan will turn 18 on 19 November 2023, making him an adult under Russian law. He has received a notice to report for a medical examination at the Moscow region’s military commissariat on 19 December 2023

“I don’t have any doubt about Russia’s plans. When Bogdan turns 18, he will no longer be considered a child, and he is likely going to be sent to the Russian army,” stated Bogdan’s lawyer. 

According to the Ukrainian Center for National Resistance, in the occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Russian authorities are enlisting children as young as 16 for military service, and conscription can occur at 18 if they lack a university deferment. This puts Ukrainian teenagers aged 16-18 at risk of being sent to the front lines, where they can get killed. Consequently, the Center for National Resistance urgently calls on Ukrainians to evacuate their teenage children from the occupied territories.

Early loss and orphanhood

Bogdan Ermokhin is an orphan from Mariupol. His parents passed away when he was just 8 years old.

Bogdan Ermokhin. Photo: Bogdan Ermokhin via Telegram

Bogdan’s first foster family did not work out, so he ended up in a family-type children’s home. Later, Bogdan enrolled at the Mariupol Metallurgical Vocational School and came under state custody. He studied to become a car mechanic and lived in a student dormitory. It was there that he experienced the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Deportation to Russia

The exact details of how underage Bogdan came under Russian control and who was directly responsible remain uncertain. Maria Lvova-Belova claimed Bogdan was among children deserted by parents and family, whom Russian troops collected from basements in Mariupol before taking them to occupied Donetsk.

“Donetsk was under fire, and we decided that the tuberculosis clinic where the children were staying was not an appropriate place for them. So we arranged a respite stay for the children at a health resort,” Lvova-Belova said.

Maria Lvova-Belova and Vladimir Putin. Photo: Kremlin.ru

Bogdan himself claimed to pro-Kremlin media that four students from his school allegedly befriended Russian tank crews who took them to occupied Donetsk, though the truth of this remains uncertain.

However, it was confirmed that Bogdan was in occupied Donetsk. Radio Free Europe journalists obtained documents from the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (‘DNR’) that revealed Bogdan and several students were taken to Russia under the guise of rehabilitation. 

They were placed at the “Polyana” rehabilitation center in the Moscow region, a branch of Russia’s Children’s Medical Center linked to President Vladimir Putin’s office. They were supposed to stay for two months, from 27 May to 27 July 2022, with plans to return to occupied Donetsk. However, this return has yet to occur.

Adoption in Russia

Bogdan Ermokhin was adopted by Irina Rudnitskaya, a doctor who had served on the front lines during the Russian-Chechen war. Irina later became a counselor-psychologist at a local children’s home and now runs her own family-style children’s home in Ruza, located 110 kilometers from Moscow.

Bogdan Ermokhin on the Russian state TV. Photo: screenshot

Russian propagandists claim that Bogdan is doing well and have featured his story in multiple television reports. However, a close friend of Bogdan insists that he wants to leave Russia as soon as possible.

“The last thing he wrote to me was: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll see each other soon and you’ll find out everything.’ I know he was planning to go to Kyiv. He told me personally that we could meet in a month. He wanted to go to Kyiv and start a new life there,” a teenage girl, who asked not to be named, told Radio Liberty.

She also reported that Bogdan disappeared from social media on 23 March 2023.

Bogdan’s escape attempt 

It was on 23 March 2023 Bogdan went missing. The Russian National Child Assistance Center shared this information on social media and, two days later, reported his discovery.

He was found over a thousand kilometers away, at the Belarusian border. Lvova-Belova accused Ukrainian intelligence agencies of attempting to kidnap him.

“We have precise data that several agents were leading him, down to the details: now you’re getting into a white car, this driver is waiting for you there, money was sent to him. At the last moment, together with law enforcement agencies, we managed to stop him right at the border,” Lvova-Belova stated.

Ukrainian intelligence agencies have not commented on this situation. Still, Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets confirmed that the Russian authorities placed Bogdan with a foster family, even though he has a sister in Ukraine. 

“This young man holds Ukrainian citizenship. Therefore, forcibly relocating him to the territory of the aggressor country is not ‘salvation,’ as Lvova-Belova claims, but a crime. Moreover, the boy tried to return home on his own. He made it as far as Belarus. However, to prevent Ukrainian children from coming back, Russia deploys special services,” wrote Lubinets.

Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets. Photo: Dmytro Lubinets via Facebook

List of 31

Bogdan Ermokhin is part of the List of 31, a group of children whose existence was revealed by Mariupol resident Yevhen Mezhevyy. Mezhevyy had three children deported to Russia but later had them returned. A similar document was discovered in the hacked emails of Denis Pushilin, the head of the ‘DNR’.

Yevhen Mezhevyy with his children. Photo: Radio Free Europe

Children from this list were taken from the occupied regions in eastern Ukraine to the Moscow region in May 2022.

The List of 31 included 16 boys and 15 girls. The youngest was Oleksandra Mezheva, who was six years old at the time of deportation, and the oldest was 17. Each child had a dossier stating they were ‘deprived of parental care’ despite most having legal guardians or parents.

Among these children was Pylyp Holovnia, whom Maria Lvova-Belova personally adopted, and Russian propaganda turned into its poster child.

Pylyp Holovnia and Maria Lvova-Belova. Photo: texty.org.ua

Currently, only one teenager and three of Yevhen Mezhevyy’s children have been successfully returned from this group. Since July 2022, the Mezhevyy family has been residing in Latvia.

The deportation of Ukrainian children led to the issuance of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on 17 March 2023 for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova. Russia has forcibly transferred nearly 5 million Ukrainians, including over 700,000 children, from Ukraine to Russia since launching its full-scale invasion in 2022.

The US Congressional hearing

During a US Congressional hearing on 19 April 2023, the Ukrainian delegation addressed the issue of thousands of Ukrainian children forcibly taken to Russia. Bogdan’s lawyer, Kateryna Bobrovska, highlighted his case and requested assistance in returning him to Ukraine.

Bohdan’s lawyer, Kateryna Bobrovska, in the US Congress. Photo: screenshot

However, Russia continues to detain Bogdan and refuses to allow him to leave despite the submission of all the necessary documents, said the lawyer. These documents confirm the blood relationship between Bogdan and his sister, his legal guardian, and include his Ukrainian internal and international passports.

If the situation remains unchanged, there is growing concern that he may soon be conscripted into the Russian army.

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