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Int’l coalition formed in Ukraine to bring back Ukrainian kids forcibly deported by Russia

An international coalition has been established to tackle Russia’s ongoing abduction of Ukrainian children. The initiative aims to ensure the safe return of these children to their families.
The inaugural meeting of the International Coalition for the return of Ukrainian children. Kyiv, 9 December 2023. Photo: president.gov.ua

On 9 December, the inaugural meeting of the International Coalition of Countries for the Return of Ukrainian Children took place in Kyiv.

Since the onset of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has intensified its disturbing practice of forcibly deporting Ukrainian children from occupied territories to Russia. Russian authorities often alter the identities of these children, making it harder for their families to locate and reunite with them.

In March, The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, concerning their involvement in the forced deportation of children.

The forced displacement of children from one group to another with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national group is considered a crime of genocide under point (e) of Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on Genocide, which was previously emphasized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Ukraine officially registered 19,540 cases of Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children, the Ukrainian Parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets, said during the Freedom or Fear international human rights conference in Kyiv on 7 December.

At the December 9 Coalition’s meeting, the Ukrainian President’s Office Head Andrii Yermak stressed the crucial role of global support in crafting effective measures for the safe return of Ukrainian children unlawfully deported by Russia. He also expressed gratitude to Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, co-chair of the international high-level expert group Bring Kids Back UA, and all those present for their participation in the “crucial” gathering. 

“Russia is erasing any memories of Ukraine in deported children”

During the Children Return Coalition’s meeting, Yermak said the safe return of abducted young Ukrainians is a top priority for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s team. Consequently, during the recent Malta summit of leaders’ advisors, as part of Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula implementation framework, the formation of the International Coalition for the Return of Ukrainian Children was launched.

To date, more than 60 countries and international organizations have pledged their support and participation in this coalition, according to a report by the Ukrainian President’s website.

Andriy Yermak said Ukraine has a lot of data on how Russia abducts Ukrainian children, who often become victims of cruel treatment. Moreover, Russians themselves admit to changing the names of Ukrainian children, placing them under Russian guardianship, and forbidding the use of the Ukrainian language, which is evidence of genocide, according to him.

“Russians are creating systems aimed at erasing any memories of Ukraine in children. They set these children against Ukraine, against our culture, our language,” Yermak added.

International support important to bring the abducted kids home

Helena Kennedy, a co-chair of the expert group Bring Kids Back UA, stressed that disrupting the bond between children and their families not only harms the child but also erodes the moral fabric of the entire nation.

Ukraine initiates Bring Kids Back UA platform, unifying efforts to return children deported by Russia

She emphasized that childhood represents a priceless phase of human life, shaping identity, nurturing personality, and fostering connections with the environment. Helena Kennedy stressed the urgent need for international assistance to prevent the serious consequences of interrupting this critical process.

Russia tries to destroy the next generation of Ukrainians

Chair of the Open Society Foundations Alexander Soros, an American businessman and philanthropist, called for the swift adoption of a UN resolution to expedite the immediate return of Ukrainian children.

He pointed out that the tally of abducted Ukrainian children has now surpassed the population of several European nations.

Alexander Soros said Russia is trying to destroy the next generation of Ukrainians and their identity.

He said the Open Society Foundations and the International Renaissance Foundation supported the initiative to create the International Coalition of Countries for the Return of Ukrainian Children. 

If one child returns every day, it will take 55 years to return them all

Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets remarked during his speech at the Coalition conference:

“If we were to return at least one deported child home every day, it would take Ukraine more than 55 years. However, we cannot wait that long. Russia has been deporting Ukrainian children since 2014 and continues to do so now. It has been almost 10 years since occupiers abducted an eight-year-old child. Now, they are a young man or woman. Children grow up very quickly, and Russia takes away not only their childhood but also their family, country, and nationality.”

He emphasized that this was the driving force behind the inaugural gathering of the International Coalition of Countries for the Return of Ukrainian Children today, which saw the participation of 72 delegates from various nations and international organizations.

“Everything is for our children to be home. We continue to work for a bright future for Ukraine and our children at home,” the Ukrainian ombudsman said.

Earlier, Lubinets stated that the officially confirmed number of Ukrainian children deported by Russia now stands at over 19,540. However, the actual figures are supposed to be much higher.

For example, some children were also forcibly deported to Russia’s client state of Belarus as Yale University’s recent study exposed the forced relocation of over 2,400 Ukrainian children to Belarusian facilities, detailing extensive systematic operations.

Previously, Russia’s Children Ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova stated that Russia “evacuated” some 4.8 million citizens from Ukraine in 2022, including more than 700,000 Ukrainian minors.

  • In mid-October, Qatar announced the repatriation of three Ukrainian children, previously forcibly deported to Russia, signaling Qatar’s larger goal of repatriating more abducted Ukrainian children.
  • In late October, four Ukrainian children who were taken to Russia and occupied territories successfully returned to Ukraine to reunite with their Kherson family, including a 17-year-old girl and three boys aged six, three, and nine years old.
  • In November, 17-year-old Bohdan Ermokhin, who was forcibly deported to Russia and adopted in 2022, who found himself at risk of conscription into the Russian army, was brought back to Ukraine.

The return of deported children from Russia receives significant media attention, yet the numbers are never in the hundreds or thousands; only a few return at a time. This underscores the necessity for a robust international initiative to facilitate their return.

 

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