Russia is attempting to sever any connection children have with Ukraine; swift actions are needed to bring them back home
President at the inaugural meeting of the International Coalition for the return of Ukrainian children.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky participated in the inaugural meeting of the International Coalition for the Return of Ukrainian Children, unlawfully deported and forcibly displaced to the Russian Federation from occupied territories of Ukraine.
Opening the coalition meeting in Kyiv, he expressed gratitude to all indifferent people who joined the International Coalition.
"The forced deportation is one of the most cynical crimes of this war. Children are not merely 'taken away' from the occupied territories of Ukraine. Russia deliberately attempts to sever any connection children have with Ukraine, with their relatives, and their loved ones. Children are taught lies about Ukraine and this war. They are placed for illegal adoption, even when they say they have relatives here, in Ukraine, and try to restore contact with their families," Zelensky said.
He added that in Russia, efforts are made to erase the national identity of young Ukrainians, which is evidence of Russia's genocidal policy towards Ukraine.
"The world knows that this crime committed by Russia against Ukrainian children, against our families, is not something random but an organized effort of the Russian state system – various branches and individuals, from Putin to all those who exercise criminal orders and ruin lives, especially those of children," Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
The head of the Ukrainian state added that the warrants from the International Criminal Court to arrest President Vladimir Putin and Russian Children's Ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova are compelling evidence that the deportation of children will not go unpunished.
At the same time, Zelenskyy said that time is crucial in the matter of returning Ukrainian children. According to him, it is important for young Ukrainians not to lose their entire childhood in a foreign land, and for the cruelty of Russian state criminals not to break the children and their connection with their country and loved ones.
"Russia itself claims hundreds of thousands of deported Ukrainian children whom it stole from Ukraine and is trying to assimilate into its society. As swift as possible and vigorous efforts are needed to bring all these children back," he said.
The Head of State reminded that one of the points of the Ukrainian Peace Formula is the return of people from Russian deportation and captivity.
"I urge you to enlarge our coalition – to increase the chances of every Ukrainian child to live at home, to live in general, to return not in years but as soon as possible," Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Leaders of world nations, representatives of foreign governments and parliaments, international human rights advocates, as well as public and cultural figures, participated in the inaugural meeting of the International Coalition of Countries for the Return of Ukrainian Children both in person and via video links.
In particular, President of Portugal Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, in a video address, affirmed, "The forced deportation of children contradicts international humanitarian law and the fundamental rights of the child and human beings. The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants, and many children's rights organizations have expressed concern about this extremely important issue. It is also important to ensure accountability for those who have committed these crimes. That is why Portugal has established a center to prosecute those who commit crimes of aggression against Ukraine."
He stated that together with the European Union and other international partners, Portugal reaffirms its unwavering commitment to supporting Ukraine.
Lithuanian President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda, in a video address, said that Russia's forcible displacement of Ukrainian children is one of its most heinous crimes in the war against Ukraine. The Russian regime separates families, undermines strong bonds between parents and children, and violates the sense of personal identity.
"Lithuania, together with the entire democratic world, remains in solidarity with Ukraine. We demand the immediate return of all Ukrainian children to their families by Russia," Gitanas Nausėda said.
President of Slovakia Zuzana Čaputová, in her video address, emphasized that today marks an important step in joint efforts to bring Ukrainian children back home.
"We are extremely determined to organize this process. We are also disappointed that in the 21st century, thousands of children are illegally taken from their places of residence, and the youngest and most vulnerable population suffers from Russian aggression," she said.
According to Zuzana Čaputová, all those responsible for crimes against children must be identified and held accountable.
During his video address, Prime Minister of Ireland Leo Varadkar said that today's meeting of the International Coalition for the Return of Children is an extremely important step to remind Russia that all actions have consequences. He emphasized that his country seeks to help ensure the safe return of all children and adults deported during the war.
"Ireland reaffirms its steadfast solidarity with the people and government of Ukraine. We strongly condemn the kidnapping of these children and insist on their release," the Prime Minister of Ireland said.
"Children should never be used for military and political purposes. That's why all of us gathered here today must work with the entire international community to ensure the return of all children home," Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada Mélanie Joly added.
The creation of the International Coalition of Countries for the Return of Ukrainian Children was initiated during a meeting of national security and foreign policy advisors in Malta to implement the Peace Formula of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The goal of the coalition's first meeting is to determine practical steps by member states to support Ukraine in its mission to bring deported and forcibly displaced children back home. It also aims to engage coalition countries in implementing specific projects and commitments to ensure the safe repatriation, rehabilitation, and integration of affected children.
At the meeting, the Coalition presented the Declaration for the Return of Illegally Deported and Forcibly Displaced Ukrainian Children to Ukraine, which is open for signature by other states and international organizations.
According to the document, the parties agree to exert all possible efforts to repatriate children who were illegally deported by the Russian Federation. The Declaration also commits to supporting the process of reuniting these children with their families and placing them in family environments. Furthermore, the Declaration includes provisions for providing all necessary humanitarian, medical, and psychological assistance to the children and their families who have suffered from illegal deportation.
Additionally, it outlines support for international efforts to hold accountable those responsible for organizing the illegal deportation and displacement of Ukrainian children.