Ukrainian children repatriated from Russia through Qatari mediation

The Gulf country negotiated a mechanism to return Ukrainian children taken by Russians to their families.

Tanya, 12, who is autistic, sitting among a circle of other children
For illustrative purposes only: Ukraine has accused Russia of removing tens of thousands of children to Russian or Russian-held territory [File: Edgar Su/Reuters]

Qatar has announced that its mediators have succeeded in securing Russian agreement for the return of four Ukrainian children to their families in what is hoped to be the first phase of repatriations for more children.

The children, who range in age from two to 17, have been received at the Qatari mission in Moscow which “facilitated the hosting of the children and their families…and accompanied them to their destination”, according to a statement by the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This first repatriation of Ukrainian children is part of a longer-term mechanism Qatar negotiated with both sides after months of secret talks, according to a Qatari official who spoke to Reuters.

Commenting on the repatriation, Qatari Minister of State for International Cooperation Lolwah al-Khater said in a statement: “Today, we celebrate the power of unity as we witness the reunification of children and their families. I extend my deepest gratitude to the State of Russia… and the State of Ukraine… Their tireless efforts, alongside the State of Qatar’s commitment, have been instrumental in facilitating this heartwarming success.

“We stand resolute in our commitment to this humanitarian cause and hope that our collaboration remains an inspiring symbol of hope and compassion.”

Thousands of Ukrainian children removed

Ukraine says up to 20,000 children have been taken by Russia into the country or territory that it holds. In May 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree making it easier for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children who were “without parental care”.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, stating that it had “grounds to believe [they bear] responsibility for the war crime of … unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.”

Both individuals dismissed the ICC warrants and accusations while Ukraine welcomed the court’s decision.

Observers at the time worried that this would spell trouble for any future diplomatic attempts to mediate the situation, but the successful launch of this mechanism signals some hope for a solution.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies