Russian charged with war crimes says Ukrainian children can go home

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Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, who is being sought for war crimes for deporting children from Ukraine, has told a UN meeting they were taken for their safety and Moscow is coordinating with international organisations to return them to their families.

Ambassadors from Western countries boycotted the informal UN Security Council meeting, sending low-level diplomats instead.

And diplomats from the United States, Britain, Albania and Malta walked out when Maria Lvova-Belova started to address the meeting by video link.

The International Criminal Court last month issued an arrest warrant for her and Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing them of abducting children from Ukraine.

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US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters before the meeting that the United States strongly opposed the briefing and joined the UK in blocking the United Nations from outside broadcast of the meeting.

Ms Lvova-Belova should not be allowed “to have an international podium to spread disinformation and to try to defend her horrible actions that are taking place in Ukraine,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.

The Associated Press reported on Ms Lvova-Belova’s involvement in the abduction of Ukrainian orphans in October. The AP investigation found that the open effort to put Ukrainian children up for adoption in Russia was well under way.

Ukrainian officials claimed at the time that nearly 8,000 children had been deported to Russia, but the exact number was difficult to determine.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia opened the meeting, saying its aim was “to unmask the blatant double-standards of the West”.

“Part of this propaganda campaign is the hushing up by the West of the fact that in European countries Ukrainian refugees are having their children taken away,” he said. Videos were then shown of some women claiming their children had been taken in Europe.

Mr Nebenzia also insisted that contrary to Western claims there have been “no forced adoptions”. He said some Ukrainian children are in foster care and claimed there were “no obstacles” for them to maintain contact with their families in Ukraine.

The AP investigation found Russian officials deported Ukrainian children to Russia without their parents’ consent, lied to them that they were not wanted by their parents, used them for propaganda, and gave them Russian families and citizenship.

Since February 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Ms Lvova-Belova said Russia has taken in more than five million Ukrainians, including 700,000 children — all with parents, relatives or legal guardians except for 2,000 from orphanages in the eastern Donbas.

To date, she said, about 1,300 children have been returned to their orphanages, 400 were sent to Russian orphanages and 358 were placed in foster homes.

Ms Lvova-Belova said there has been no official communication with Ukrainian authorities about the children, but she said her office has met with representatives of Unicef, Refugees International and the International Committee of the Red Cross and “we provide all available information about the situation of children”.

“Now we’re coordinating efforts with the Red Cross on reunification,” she said.

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