Ukraine’s human rights commissioner said on Friday that two arrest warrants issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another official over the unlawful wartime deportation of children to Russia had helped to return some of them.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued warrants in March for the arrest of Putin and children’s ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova on war crimes charges related to the abduction of Ukrainian children. The Kremlin rejects the allegations.
Kyiv says it has officially confirmed the deportation of 19,546 children and that the figure could be higher.
“In my opinion, after the two arrest warrants were issued by the International Criminal Court for Putin and Lvova-Belova, it has become easier to return children,” Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian human rights commissioner, told a news conference.
On Wednesday, eight children were brought back to Ukraine from Russia and Moscow-occupied territories, under a deal brokered by Qatar.
“I do not know what arguments the Russian Federation accepts, but children began to be given away. Non-systematically, in small groups, however, they began to be given away,” Lubinets said.
He said Ukraine has so far managed to return 387 children from Russia and some more from Moscow-occupied territories.
Moscow says it transported thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia in a humanitarian move to protect minors abandoned in a conflict zone.
Lubinets said Russia was now carrying out more deportations through the territory of its close ally Belarus to complicate the process of tracking and verifying the whereabouts of children.
He voiced hope that new arrest warrants would follow. He said many more Russian representatives were involved in deportations happening since 2014 when the first case was registered after Moscow seized and occupied Crimea.
“If at least one deported child is returned home every day, Ukraine will need more than 55 years to do it,” said Lubinets in a separate statement on Telegram messenger.
His comments follow a first meeting of an international “coalition” for the return of deported Ukrainian children that was held in Kyiv on Friday, with 72 representatives of countries and international organizations present.
Addressing the participants in a speech, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that such deportations were “not something unsystematic, but the organised work of Russia’s state system.”