Four Ukrainian children will be reunited with their families in a deal facilitated by Qatar. These children range in age from two to 17, and their return represents a crucial step in the ongoing effort to bring back thousands of Ukrainian children who were taken to Russia or Russian-held territories without their family’s consent. This action is widely viewed as a war crime under the UN treaty’s definition of genocide.
The first child, a seven-year-old boy, was already returned to Ukraine on Monday, having been reunited with his grandmother at Qatar’s Moscow embassy the previous week. Meanwhile, the two-year-old boy was handed over to Qatari diplomats in Moscow on Monday as well. Finally, a nine-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl are expected to be handed over this week. The Ukrainian Presidential Office has assured that all these children will soon be back home.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, expressed this sentiment on social media but didn’t provide further details about the repatriation process. This act of reuniting children with their families is a positive step amidst a complicated situation.
The conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which escalated with a full-scale invasion by Russia in February last year, has led to the forced removal of many Ukrainian children. Moscow, however, denies these allegations and claims that it has acted in the best interests of these vulnerable children.
This marks the first test of a system established by the Gulf Arab state of Qatar. This system was created after months of secretive negotiations with both Moscow and Kyiv, and it operates under the radar due to the sensitivity of the process. Lolwah Al Khater, Qatar’s minister of state for international cooperation, confirmed the mediation efforts and emphasized that these repatriations are only the initial step in the broader mission.
Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, provided a shortlist of Ukrainian children to be returned to Qatar. This list was then verified by a team of Qatari diplomats to ensure the accurate identification of each child. The exact number of children that Russia is willing to authorize for return through the Qatari mechanism remains uncertain.
Approximately 400 children have been returned to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion. However, the United Nations human rights agency has expressed concerns about the absence of a structured system for facilitating such returns.
To ensure the safe return of these children, Qatari diplomats will accompany them across the border with Estonia, Latvia, or Belarus. Some children may even be flown back to Ukraine via chartered jet from Qatar. Both Ukrainian and Russian officials have been cooperative in this endeavor, and Ukraine sought Qatar’s assistance in mediating with Russia to secure the children’s return.
One particularly heartwarming story is that of the seven-year-old boy who was reunited with his grandmother. He had been residing in Russia at a children’s home because he was separated from his mother, who was in Russia when the war began. This reunion is a testament to the positive impact of international cooperation and mediation in conflict resolution.
It is essential to note that the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova in March. They were accused of illegally deporting children from Ukraine, a grave war crime. Both individuals, however, vehemently deny these allegations. The return of these children is not only a humanitarian act but also a significant development in the international legal context.