KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The head of a Ukrainian rescue organization said Saturday that the organization has brought back 31 children from Russia, where they had been taken during the war.
Mykola Kuleba said at a news conference in Kyiv that the children were expected to arrive in the capital later in the day. Kuleba is the executive director of the Save Ukraine organization and is the presidential commissioner for children’s rights.
Deportations of Ukrainian children have been a concern since Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine. The International Criminal Court increased pressure on Russia when it issued arrest warrants on March 17 for President Vladimir Putin and Russian children’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, accusing them of abducting children from Ukraine.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said this week it had been in contact with Lvova-Belova, the first confirmation of high-level international intervention to reunite families with children who were forcibly deported.
ICRC spokesman Jason Straziuso said the organization was in contact with Lvova-Belova “in line with its mandate to restore contact between separated families and facilitate reunification where feasible.”
An Associated Press investigation revealed Lvova-Belova’s involvement in the abductions and found an open effort to put Ukrainian children up for adoption in Russia.
Lvova-Belova told an informal U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday that the children were taken for their safety, not abducted — a claim widely rejected by the international community.
The exact number of Ukrainian children taken to Russia has been difficult to determine, and numbers from the warring countries differ vastly.
A statement posted Wednesday on Twitter by Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, said more than 19,500 children had been seized from their families or orphanages and forcibly deported.