Qatar mediates return of 11 Ukrainian children from Russia

Ukraine accuses Russia of having “expelled” thousands of children to its territory. Russia, however, says that it moved these children to protect them from the violence.

With Qatar’s mediation, 11 Ukrainian children will depart from Russia on Tuesday and join their families in Ukraine, in a new round of transfers.

The children, who are between 2 and 16 years old, met with their families at the Qatari embassy in Moscow on Monday, as confirmed by AFP reporters, and will travel to Ukraine on Tuesday through Belarus.

The 11 Ukrainian children, some of whom have chronic diseases and require specific medical care, will be accompanied by Qatari diplomats.

Lolwah al Khater, the Minister of State for International Cooperation, said in a statement: “We will keep mediating between the two sides as long as it is needed, hoping that this can lead to a reduction of the conflict.”

According to Moscow, this mechanism has already enabled 59 children to return to their country.

Ukraine accuses Russia of having “expelled” thousands of children to its territory, from areas it occupies in the former Soviet republic.

Russia, however, says that it moved these children to protect them from the violence and says that it is ready to send them back to their relatives in Ukraine if they request it.

One of the children who will return to their country is Adelia, a 13-year-old girl who will go back to her aunt’s home after losing her mother in the clashes in Mikhailovka, near Melitopol, in the southeast of Ukraine, occupied by Russian forces. .

In late January, Moscow defended its “traditional family” policy at the UN, before giving explanations about the thousands of children who Kyiv says were forcibly moved to Russia after the invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. .

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant in March 2023 for President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Commissioner for Children, Maria Lvova-Belova, for alleged “illegal expulsion” of minors. Moscow said it considers this action “void.”

Alexei Vovchenko, the leader of the Russian delegation and deputy minister of Labor and Social Protection, did not mention the forced movement of children in his opening statement, but defended Russian actions to “reinforce the family as an institution and protect the traditional families.”

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, composed of 18 independent experts, will conduct the review of the Russia case, which started on Monday afternoon in Geneva and will last two days.

Kyiv estimates that around 20,000 Ukrainian children were forcibly taken to Russia. Only 400 have been brought back so far.

Belarus Transfers Additionally, a study by Yale University found that more than 2,400 Ukrainian children aged 6 to 17 have been transported to Belarus from four Ukrainian regions that are partially occupied by Russian forces. The Belarusian opposition asked the International Criminal Court to hold dictator Alexander Lukashenko and his officials responsible for their participation in the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children.

Pavel Latushka, a former Belarusian culture minister who became an opposition activist and who gave the ICC evidence of Lukashenko’s alleged involvement in the illegal removal of the children, said that the arrival of a new group from Russian-occupied territories “emphasizes the need for the ICC to investigate these crimes.”

“Lukashenko, his family and his associates, together with the Kremlin, have set up a system of moving Ukrainian children, including orphans, from the occupied territories to Belarus, and this channel is still operating,” Latushka told the AP agency. .

Belarus has been Russia’s closest ally since the Russian invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022, when Lukashenko allowed the Kremlin to use his country’s land to invade Ukraine. Russia has also stationed some of its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

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