Russia and Ukraine Give Conflicting Accounts on Exchange of Displaced Children

Written by Camilla Jessen

Apr.25 - 2024 2:04 PM CET

Photo: Ombudsman of Ukraine
Photo: Ombudsman of Ukraine
Russia and Ukraine announce exchange of displaced children in conflicting accounts.

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Russia and Ukraine have announced an exchange of children displaced by the war, but they have given conflicting accounts of what happened following talks in Doha on Wednesday.

Officials in both countries shared their respective versions of events, as reported by Novaya Gazeta.

Russia's Announcement

Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner, stated that 29 Ukrainian children in Russia would return to their families in Ukraine, while 11 Russian children would return from Ukraine to Russia.

This announcement followed the first in-person talks between the two countries on the topic of displaced children since the start of the war.

Lvova-Belova also claimed that she had sought the help of Qatar's Minister for International Cooperation, Lolwah Al-Khater, to return eight children currently in the European Union to their families in Russia, describing the occasion as a "momentous day."

Lvova-Belova did not clarify how these children had been separated from their families or the circumstances leading to their displacement. Russia has faced accusations of forcibly transferring Ukrainian children to its territory, a practice that the Council of Europe has condemned as akin to "genocide."

Qatari and Ukranian officials posing with Ukranian children in Doha, Qatar, April 24 (Photo: Ombudsman of Ukraine)

Ukraine's Response

Ukraine's Human Rights Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets refuted Lvova-Belova's assertion of direct talks, stating that negotiations between Russia and Ukraine were being conducted "through the mediation of Qatar and Qatari diplomats."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky contradicted Lvova-Belova's claims, saying that a group of 16 Ukrainian children who had been "forcibly deported to Russia" would be reunited with their families in Ukraine following a meeting between Lubinets and Al-Khater.

Zelensky's comments align with ongoing concerns about Russia's actions in Ukraine, particularly the forced deportation and "Russification" of Ukrainian children.

In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Lvova-Belova and Russian President Vladimir Putin for their alleged role in the "war crime of unlawful deportation of children" from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.

Lvova-Belova dismissed reports of thousands of "deported" children as "nothing more than a myth."

However, she had previously claimed that Russia had "accommodated" over 700,000 Ukrainian children since the start of its invasion in 2022.

Kyiv, meanwhile, estimates that almost 20,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the beginning of the full-scale war, with fewer than 400 having returned.

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