UKRAINE: Qatar gets the repatriation of Ukrainian children illegally deported by Russia
By Dr Ievgeniia Gidulianova and Willy Fautré
HRWF (19.12.2023) – In two months, Qatar has managed to organize three successful rescue operations of Ukrainian children deported or forcefully kept away by Russia from their families in Ukraine.
Two days ago, on 16 December 2023, three young Ukrainians could be sent back home from Russia, through the mediation of Qatar. This happened within the framework of the action plan of the President of Ukraine “Bring Kids Back UA”. Two Ukrainian teenagers, a 15-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, could be taken out of the territories occupied by Russia and reunited with their mother. Another one was taken out of Russia through Georgia. This was reported on Telegram by Dmytro Lubinets, the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights, who at the same time recalled that any information related to the deportation of children could be shared with him through various channels: hotline 0 800 50 17 20 – within Ukraine, 044 299 74 08 – for calls from abroad, e-mail: email@example.com.
On 6 December 2023, thanks to the mediation of Qatar, six Ukrainian children from 8 to 15 years deported by Russia were returned to Ukraine and reunited with their families. Qatari diplomats accompanied the children from their embassy in Moscow to the Ukrainian border, where they were met by representatives of the Ukrainian authorities. This was the second successful rescue operation organized by Qatar.
On 16 October 2023, Qatar announced that four children from the age of two to the age of 17 years had been reunited with their families in Ukraine. The two-year old child had been deported from the region of Zhytomyr at the age of six months. Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs facilitated the accommodation of the children and their families in their embassy in Moscow during the operation. Their staff accompanied them to their destination, ensuring their safety, comfort and well-being. The trip was organized with several modes of transport, including a diplomatic convoy, a train, and a private charter plane through Qatar.
It is during a visit to Ukraine in July 2023 by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani that Qatar agreed to a Ukrainian request to mediate with Russia on the return of children to their immediate families.
About the magnitude of the deportation of Ukrainian children
Since the beginning of the full-scale military invasion of the Ukraine, the Russian Federation has been carrying out forced mass displacement and deportation of Ukrainian children who, under various circumstances, were separated from both parents, other relatives or legal representatives, without providing the opportunity to return to the territory of permanent residence or reunite with family members.
The exact number of deported children cannot be established due to the ongoing full-scale aggression, difficult access to the temporarily exact number of deported children, it is impossible to establish the occupied territories, and the failure of the Russian side to provide reliable information.
According to the Russian Federation Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia has “accepted” about 4.8 million Ukrainian residents on its territory since the start of the “Special Military Operation” (full-scale invasion war on Ukraine) and more than 700,000 are children. The Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for the Rights of the Child Daria Herasymchuk said that this figure is purposefully overstated by Russia which describes the operation as “evacuation and rescue of children” behind which the reality is the illegal forceful displacement of hundreds of thousands of children from the occupied territories.
So far, Ukraine has collected personal data on only 19,546 deported children. These are only children whose data – names, circumstances of deportation – have been established, so this figure does not fully reflect the real scale of deportation. Their number continues to grow.
These children have become hostages of the war as they are under the rule of the enemy, who is constantly trying to Russify them.
On 1 September 2023, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Dmytro Lubinets, said that there is currently confirmation of the adoption of 386 Ukrainian children who were deported by the Russian Federation to its territories.
On 17 March 2023, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.
Qatar was the first international partner to return Ukrainian children
At the beginning of autumn 2023, Ukraine launched the implementation of the Project «Bring Kids Back UA», which is a comprehensive action plan that unites the efforts of all Ukrainian authorities, other states, international and non-governmental organizations for the return to their homeland of all Ukrainian children who were illegally deported by Russia.
As noted by Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets, during the full-scale war, Ukraine received many proposals from our international partners regarding the repatriation of Ukrainian children but the first country to be successful was Qatar.
According to him, this issue was debated at the forum in Jeedah (Saudi Arabia) in early August 2023. The Qatari authorities managed to persuade the Kremlin to return Ukrainian children, without putting forward any conditions that would relate to the national interests of Ukraine.
Commenting on the cooperation with Ukraine about the return of Ukrainian children abducted by Russia, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani said: “Qatar mediates in various conflicts that are taking place not only in this region, but even beyond that. This is the basis of our country’s foreign policy and that’s the main element we’re concentrating on. We see this as the contribution of a small country to international peace and security.”
Photo: Qatar ambassador to Russia, Sheikh Ahmed bin Nasser al-Thani and Alexey Ghazaryan of the Russian Office of the Commissioner for Children’s Rights, meet Ukrainian children and their family members at the Qatari embassy in Moscow, Dec. 5, 2023. VOA News.