Russia’s children’s rights commissioner has spoken for the first time about accusations that the country abducted and brainwashed thousands of Ukrainian children.
Maria Lvova-Belova, 38, who has “adopted” a teenage boy from Mariupol herself, insisted that Russia is just trying to “help” them.
An unknown number of orphans and children have been taken from occupied Ukraine to “holiday camps” inside Russia and Crimea.
In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and Ms Lvova-Belova, for the alleged unlawful deportation and transfer of children. In a new documentary, Ukraine’s Stolen Children, deported youngsters recalled how they were told they had been abandoned by their parents, were never going back, had to speak Russian, sing the Russian anthem and had their minds poisoned against their homeland.
Speaking Ukrainian was punished with three days of isolation, even for young children, they say.
ITV film-makers followed desperate mothers and relatives who travelled to Russia in a bid to bring them home, with some children refusing because of indoctrination.
Yet in her first interview with a British broadcaster, Ms Lvova-Belova branded the arrest warrant “ridiculous”. She said: “It’s to demonise the image of Russia, like they always do. We’ll do all we can to reunite a child with their family.”
Dismissing claims that youngsters have been indoctrinated, she said, “it’s not clear to me why Ukrainians believe we’re trying to eradicate Ukrainian ethnicity”.
She said children are given Russian citizenship as “this gives them equal rights with other children living here”. She claims she knew nothing about children being told “you’re never going back”, and said she is investigating claims they were banned from speaking Ukrainian.
Kostyra, 14, from Kherson, spent six months in a camp before his sister arrived to collect him.
He said: “At first, I didn’t want to leave, as they told me that when you return to Ukraine you can be executed just because you went to Russia. They were trying to turn us against Ukraine – all the children were falling for it.” Diana, also 14 and from Kherson, was in a camp for six months until her parents arrived. She said: “The Russians pretended to be our saviours but, in reality, it’s just nonsense.”
Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine Com-missioner for Human Rights, said Russia has refused to provide a list of Ukrainian children it holds. He said: “We hope the children will be returned home soon. But it won’t happen with any help from Russia.”
- Ukraine’s Stolen Children, ITV 1, ITVX, 10.45pm tomorrow
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