UKRAINE: NGOs rescue children from Russian-occupied territories and Russia

Human Rights Without Frontiers calls upon the UN, the EU and states supporting Ukraine to fund Ukrainian NGOs rescuing at high risks Ukrainian children deported by and to Russia

In Ukrainian:україна-hyo-рятують-українських-дітей-д/

In Russian:

By Willy Fautre


Schuman Roundabout in Brussels: Members from a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, Avaaz, protesting against the Russian abduction of Ukrainian children on Feb. 24, 2023. (Photo by Thierry Monasse)

HRWF (22.05.2024) – Since the beginning of the year, it was publicly reported by Kyiv that several Ukrainian non-governmental organizations had rescued more than a hundred Ukrainian children deported by and to Russia.

Only NGOs can put words into action with concrete rescue operations, not international institutions or states. In exchange, they would expect that the United Nations, the European Union and governmental institutions of various countries supporting Ukraine against Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine would spontaneously and generously fund their activities but this is not the case.

Some rescue operations in May in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts

On 17 May, Ukraine returned four children from Russian-occupied territory in Kherson Oblast, local governor Oleksandr Prokudin said.

The evacuated children were three brothers and a sister, aged from two to 12 years.

The rescue operation was conducted by the children’s parents in collaboration with Save Ukraine, a Ukrainian humanitarian NGO.

The children arrived on Ukraine-controlled territory and received psychological and medical support, the governor said.

On 15 May, the Reintegration Ministry reported that the non-governmental Ukrainian organization Child Rights Network brought back a 17-year-old orphan, Denys, from Russian-held territories in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. He was 16 years old when he was abducted. He was then living in Kherson with his two deaf parents, who could not speak and could not fight back when Russian troops abducted him.

He spent 10 months in a Russian camp in Occupied Crimea until he was rescued by volunteers of an NGO. He had been living in the Russian-occupied territories under the supervision of his neighbor and searching for options to move to Ukraine-controlled territory since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, according to the ministry’s statement.

Denys’s aunt previously appealed to the ministry to help in bringing the boy back. Currently, Denys lives under his aunt’s guardianship.

The boy was sent to the rehabilitation center in the city of Truskavets in Lviv Oblast for further recovery.

On 14 May, Child Rights Network returned six children from Russian-occupied territories in Kherson Oblast.

Some rescue operations in March

On 22 March, nine Ukrainian children previously deported by Russia or held in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied territories were brought back to Ukraine, said Ukraine’s Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets. 

The children were returned with the help of Qatar, which has played a major mediation role in returning Ukrainian children who had been deported or forcibly transferred to Russia, and within the framework of the approved action plan of Ukraine’s president Bring Kids Back UA.

According to Lubinets, two three-year-old sisters, a six-year-old boy, and a 10-year-old girl were rescued from orphanages after their guardians and relatives appealed for their return. A 12-year-old girl was returned and reunited with her mother. 

“Children were forced to attend Russian schools, where they were told that there was no independent state of Ukraine,” Andriy Yermak, Ukraine’s Presidential Office head, wrote on Telegram.

According to Lubinets, one of the girls who was returned had a disability and was not given proper medical care while being held in Russian-occupied territory. She will now reportedly receive proper care.

Some rescue operations in February

An international team of investigators have tracked down eight Ukrainian children, believed to have been abducted during Russia’s invasion, reported Anna Holligan in The Hague & Diana Kuryshko, BBC Ukraine correspondent in an article titled “Ukraine’s missing children tracked down in Russia by digital sleuths”

More than 60 detectives used digital open source techniques to trace the missing children whose presence in Russia had been mentioned in their propaganda.

Experts from 23 countries at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague used advanced facial recognition to find recent images of the children online. Geolocation experts analysed photos and videos and used satellite data to determine where they were being kept. 

According to the BBC, 18 Ukrainian children who were transferred to Russia and then returned home took part in a recreational camp in Irshava in the Zakarpattia region of western Ukraine, organised by a foundation set up by a Ukrainian billionaire.

About statistics: only 2.5% of children stolen by Russia were rescued

According to the official Ukrainian Database of Children in War, about 20,000 children have been separated from their families in Ukraine, forcibly transferred by Russia to its own territories and the occupied Ukrainian regions where they have forcibly been registered as Russian citizens since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine,

Many journalists, media outlets and even officials keep on writing that less than 400 children have been brought back home as mentioned on the website of the Ukrainian Database. These are however outdated statistics of 2022. They have unfortunately not been updated for lack of staff, failing to include more cases of enforced disappearances. Over a hundred children are thought to have been rescued since 1 January 2024. Most of them, if not all of them, were not on the lists of the Database.

The exact figures are unclear, and where they are is mostly unknown. The BBC has compiled evidence from many children who said they were separated from parents, were not allowed to go home or call their relatives. 

In 2023, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for the unlawful deportation of children.

Russia denies the accusation and says it has protected vulnerable children by moving them from a war zone for their own safety. 

Maria Lvova-Belova says some 730,000 children have been brought to Russia, most of them with their parents or other relatives and that 2,000 children were ‘evacuated’ from Ukrainian orphanages for their ‘safety’, although she makes no mention of forcible displacement.

Unlike the issue of exchange of war prisoners, Russia remains far away from any international attempt to reunify the deported Ukrainian children with their original families and to repatriate the orphans to their country of origin but prefers to promote their illegal adoption by Russian families and hereby to forcibly russify them in flagrant violation of the internation conventions.


HRWF Reports in English, Russian, Ukrainian

15 December 2023

RUSSIA/ UKRAINE: Ukrainian children un search of a way home from Russia/ HRWF Report submitted to the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child (15 December 2023)

Versions in Russian and in Ukrainian: HERE

– See UN Website:

23 March 2023

Ордер МУС на арест Владимира Путина и Марии ЛьвовойБеловой за военные преступления RU/EN (23.03.2023) / ICC arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova for war crimes (23.03.2023)

27 February 2023

РОССИЯматушка: Мария ЛьвоваБелова, союзница Путина, депортирующая украинских детей RU/ EN (27.02.2023) /RUSSIA:Mother Russia: Maria Lvova-Belova, Putin’s ally deporting Ukrainian children (27.02.2023)

20 February 2023

РОССИЯ вывезла тысячи украинских детей RU/ EN (20.02.2023)/  RUSSIA deports thousands of Ukrainian children (20.02.2023)

Other reports in English, Ukrainian or Russian

25 December 2023

First Christmas for a family reunited with their child deported to Russia

17 December 2023

Today we have good news. Three children have been returned home

Ukrainian teen forcibly transferred to Russia says upon return that ‘Every child feels abandoned

8 December 2023

Zelensky at the meeting of the International Coalition for the Return of Ukrainian Children

Dozens of countries have taken up the return of Ukrainian children from the Russian Federation

Ukraine’s human rights envoy calls for a faster way to bring back children deported by Russia

Conference “Joint Steps to Bring Kids Back UA” (Speech of Dunja Mijatovic)

7 December 2023

Ukraine has already returned 522 deported children in total -Lubynets

“Every child feels abandoned.” Exclusive interview with Bogdan Yermokhin, returned from Russia

5 December 2023

The State of Qatar Facilitates Ongoing Successful Efforts to Reunify Ukrainian Children with their Families

Qatar announces return of six Ukrainian children from Russia

19 November 2023

“Glory to Ukraine!” – the first words of Bogdan Yermokhin, deported from Mariupol to the Russian Federation, on Ukrainian land

17 October 2023

3 Ukraine children to be released from Russia after Qatar mediation

16 October 2023

Ukrainian children repatriated from Russia through Qatari mediation

1 September 2023

11 children who were kept by Russians in the occupied part of Kherson region were returned to Ukraine

24 August 2023

Deportation, Treatment of Ukraine’s Children by Russian Federation Take Centre Stage by Many Delegates at Security Council Briefing

Imposing Sanctions and Visa Restrictions on Individuals and Entities Russia to Promote Accountability for Forced Transfer and Deportation of Children During Russia’s Illegal War Against Ukraine

21 July 2023

Stolen generation. Russia systematically abducts children from Ukraine gives them to Russian families

8 May 2023

Andriy Yermak in meetings to discuss return of Ukrainian children illegally deported by Russia