Qatar mediates deal to return abducted Ukrainian children

A 7-year-old Ukrainian boy, who is the first child released under a new mechanism Qatar has set up with the goal of repatriating children from Russia to Ukraine, stands with his grandmother while interacting with Russia's Commissioner for Children's Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova and a Qatari diplomat in this handout image taken at Qatar's embassy in Moscow, Russia October 13, 2023. Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Handout via REUTERS

Qatar has played a pivotal role in facilitating the reunion of four Ukrainian children with their families. These children had been separated from their parents during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The children, aged between 2 and 17, represent the first group to be successfully returned to Ukraine. This achievement came after extensive efforts by Qatar and several other mediators during the summer. One child has already returned to Ukraine through the Baltic states and Poland, another is currently en route via Qatar with their mother, while the remaining two are expected to travel to Ukraine through Qatar later this week.

>The negotiations for reuniting families are primarily focused on the thousands of Ukrainian children who were either taken to Russia and placed in children’s homes or adopted by Russian families. Some of these children, including the four mentioned in the Qatar talks, found themselves stranded in Russia or Russian-controlled territories when the conflict began. Others were forcibly taken to Russia by soldiers and placed with Russian families.

Ukraine has accused the Kremlin of attempting to erase these children’s Ukrainian identities and views the alleged abductions of up to 20,000 children as a form of genocide. This contentious issue led the International Criminal Court to charge President Putin with war crimes in March, along with Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova. This issue is so sensitive that Ukraine and Russia do not engage in direct discussions on this matter.

Qatar has been engaged in discrete, back-channel negotiations, involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Roman Abramovich, the former owner of Chelsea Football Club. Despite the ongoing war with no clear end in sight, which has persisted for more than a year and a half since Russia’s invasion, mediators and Ukraine’s Western allies aspire for discussions on issues such as the children to eventually lead to broader peace negotiations.

Andriy Yermak, head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, revealed that Ukraine had been collaborating for several months with negotiators to broker a deal regarding the children. He highlighted that Ukraine had engaged with many countries, from the Vatican to the Global South on this matter. He also expressed confidence in the concrete roadmap for repatriating Ukrainian children.

Yermak confirmed that more children will be repatriated in the next weeks.

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