Qatar strikes deal to return four Ukrainian children taken to Russia

AFP , Monday 16 Oct 2023

Four Ukrainian children who were taken to Russia after Moscow's invasion are to be reunited with relatives following Qatari mediation, officials said on Monday.

Ukrainian boy at Qatar s embassy
A 7-year-old Ukrainian boy is seated next to his grandmother and Russia s Commissioner for Children s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova (R) at Qatar s embassy in Moscow, Russia, Oct. 13, 2023. Photo handout by Qatar s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Moscow has been accused of bringing thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia from Moscow-occupied territories since it invaded Ukraine in February last year.

The children, aged between two and 17, have been staying at the Qatari embassy in Moscow while Doha mediated between Russian and Ukrainian authorities, a diplomat briefed on the process said.

They include one child whose mother has been detained in Russia and another who lost contact with his mother as he was in a Russian hospital when the war broke out.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin and his children's rights commissioner Maria-Lvova Belova over the alleged illegal deportations.

"Both Ukrainian and Russian officials have been cooperative in ensuring the safety and security of the children and their departure to Ukraine," said the diplomat on condition of anonymity.

"The minors, during their period of separation from their families in Russia, were provided with the relevant care and treatment by the Russian government."

All four are traveling to Ukraine via third countries including Qatar, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Kyiv welcomed the return of the children, calling it an "important day."

"We are bringing home four Ukrainian children who were previously illegally deported by Russia," the head of Ukraine's presidential office Andriy Yermak said on social media.

"(Ukrainian President) Volodymyr Zelensky has set a goal to return all our children. We are working on it," he added.

Qatar called the return of the children a "positive step and a gesture of goodwill between the Ukrainian and Russian governments".

"We understand that today's breakthrough is only a first step, but we are encouraged by the commitment and openness showed by both sides throughout the process," Lolwah Al Khater, minister of state for international cooperation, said in a statement.

She added that "we sincerely hope will lead to more initiatives aimed at de-escalating tensions and building trust between the two parties".

Moscow welcomes Qatar role

Qatar, a gas-rich Gulf monarchy, has acted as a broker in several international disputes, including last month's Iran-US prisoner exchange.

At a press conference in Moscow on Monday, Russia's children's rights commissioner Lvova-Belova did not confirm the deal.

But she welcomed Qatar's "mediatory" role in talks with Ukraine, including on the "process of reuniting children".

"They came out as a third party, they are trying to figure (things) out," she said.

"We hope for a continuation of cooperation."

Lvova-Belova again denied that children are being forcibly brought to Russia from Ukraine and refused to give a number of minors from occupied Ukrainian territories in Russia.

"We don't lead the statistics," she said, adding that government ministries will publish statistics of regional social institutions.

Ukraine has said that "thousands" of its children are currently held by Russia.

Lvova-Belova said Moscow currently has 17 requests from Ukrainian families to return children, and that authorities were "working on this".

The official said she has made nine trips to occupied Ukrainian territories and that her office had opened "five humanitarian headquarters" there, including in Mariupol -- which was flattened and then captured by Russia early in its invasion.

Lvova-Belova has presented Russia's taking of the children as protecting them from the conflict.

Short link: