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Ukraine returns three more kids from Russian-occupied territories on Christmas eve

Before Christmas, Ukraine brought back from Russian-occupied territories an eight-year-old who faced the threat of forced adoption in Russia and two 18-year-olds who might have been drafted to fight against Ukraine.
Mykola Kuleba, former Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights and founder of Save Ukraine. Photo: RFE/RL

Ukraine has returned three more children from the Russian-occupied territories, and “they are already safe, waiting for recovery and return to normal life,” Mykola Kuleba, former Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights and founder of Save Ukraine, said in a statement, according to RFE/RL.

Three more children returned to Ukraine from Russia and occupied areas

Kuleba noted that this marked the 14th rescue mission by the organization, during which they successfully reunited 14 children with their families, seven of whom had been deprived of parental care.

The head of Save Ukraine noted that among the reunited children is 8-year-old Yelisey, whose mother lived in Odesa while he lived with his grandmother in the occupied Kherson Oblast. After Gramma’s death, Russian authorities placed him in an orphanage, denying custody to his cousin, who tried to retrieve him.

“We had to act, because if a child stays in Russia without parental care for six months, he or she is granted a status that allows them to be placed with a Russian family or choose another way of placement. So our team did everything possible to ensure that the mother received the necessary medical care and was able to take the child from the occupied territory,” Kuleba explained.

Together with Yelisey, two 18-year-old brothers, Andriy and Mykhailo, were reunited. They were orphans raised in a foster family on the occupied territory. As adults, they feared being drafted to fight against their own people, and they were sought as missing persons in Ukraine.

In September, the Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsman, Dmytro Lubinets, confirmed the return of 9 Ukrainian children from temporarily occupied territory. Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk stated that Ukraine has repatriated over 380 children taken to Russia during the all-out war.

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 as 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.

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