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Ukrainian Maria Sulyalina receives human rights award in Sweden for documenting war crimes against children in occupied territories

The award granted by the international non-governmental organization Civil Rights Defenders recognizes Sulialina’s efforts to advocate for those affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine, specifically children living in occupied territories.
The image shows Mariia Sulialina, the head of the Almenda organization which protects human rights in Ukraine. Source: Hromadske
Ukrainian Maria Sulyalina receives human rights award in Sweden for documenting war crimes against children in occupied territories

On 21 May, the head of the Ukrainian human rights organization Almenda, Mariia Sulialina, will come to Stockholm to receive the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award, which she got for “outstanding resilience and commitment to human rights, democracy, and children’s right to shape their own future,” according to the international non-governmental organization based in Sweden.

The Civil Rights Defenders was founded as the Swedish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in 1982. The organization comprises eight branches worldwide and supports human rights defenders who work in the most repressive regions.

Mariia Sulialina gives voice to children in Russia-occupied territories of Ukraine who are often brainwashed by the Kremlin’s propaganda and documents war crimes to hold further them accountable.

“There are gross violations of human rights in the occupied territories. Nobody is safe, no matter if you are a child or an adult”, says the Ukrainian human rights defenders.

She says that Russian occupation authorities are not only trying to establish their control over territories but also erase Ukrainian identity and culture. Moreover, one of their main objectives is to prepare the smallest ones for military service in the Russian armed forces. To achieve this, the Russian-installed “officials” in Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson oblasts, and Crimea implemented forced lessons where teachers instruct students to handle weapons and obey discipline “army” rules.

“The children in the occupied territories do not receive a proper education because propaganda is such a large part of it.

It clearly paints a picture of a future for the children where the boys will become soldiers, the girls will be their support and the rest of the world are enemies that they need to defend themselves against. The children are treated as a mobilization reserve”, said Mariia Sulialina.

Ukrainian children are also being deported to Russia. An estimated 19,000 children have been abducted. If a child has lost family members, the risk of being abducted or illegally adopted by a Russian family significantly increases.

“They do not take the best interest of the child into account. What we have to do is bring them back, rehabilitate them, give them psychological and physical help. We need to give them their future back so they can become who they want to be, not who Russia wants them to be,” Sulialina explains. 

The “Almenda” organization, led by Mariia Sulialina, gathers information on instances of children’s indoctrination, seeks ways to draw attention to war crimes, and also fights for the return of deported children. According to Ukraine’s official portal, Russia has illegally transferred 19,546 children, whose fates in most cases remain unknown. Ukraine managed to return only 388 of them.

“We have to show the world what is going on because there is still a lack of reaction to what is happening with our children in the occupied territories. It has already been going on for ten years already. So we need to put more pressure on those responsible and raise awareness to bring justice,” the human rights defender underlined.

Apart from her drive to give a future for the children growing up in Ukraine, Mariia dreams of one day revisiting Crimea, the place where she grew up.

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