A teenager who was left without parents and sent to Russia during the early stages of the Ukraine conflict has been reunited with family members in their home country.
A Ukrainian teenager who lost his parents and was brought to Russia during the war in his country has finally returned to his homeland after being reunited with family in Belarus on his 18th birthday.
Bohdan Yermokhin was seen hugging members of his family in Minsk in pictures posted on social media by Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s ombudswoman for children’s rights.
Andrii Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, confirmed that Yermokhin had arrived back in Ukraine and shared a photo of him with a Ukrainian flag. Yermak thanked UNICEF and Qatari negotiators for facilitating Yermokhin’s return.
According to Ukrainian lawyer Kateryna Bobrovska, Yermokhin’s legal guardians, his parents, passed away two years ago prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the onset of the conflict, he was relocated from his hometown of Mariupol, where he resided with his cousin, to a foster family in the Moscow region and was granted Russian citizenship.
Bobrovska, the lawyer for the teenage boy and his 26-year-old cousin Valeria Yermokhina, stated to The Associated Press that Yermokhin had frequently expressed his wish to return home and had been discussing daily about “going back to Ukraine to be with his family.”
Yermokhin was one of thousands of Ukrainian children taken to Russia from occupied regions of Ukraine. The practice prompted the International Criminal Court in March to accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin and children’s rights ombudswoman Lvova-Belova of committing war crimes.
The Hague court in the Netherlands has authorized warrants for the arrests of Putin and Lvova-Belova. This decision was made based on “reasonable grounds to believe” that the two were involved in the illegal deportation and transfer of children from Ukraine.
The warrants have been rejected by the Kremlin as invalid. Lvova-Belova maintains that the children were taken to Russia for protection, not kidnapped, a belief that has been widely rejected by the global community. However, on November 10, the children’s rights advocate declared in an online statement that Yermokhin would be permitted to travel back to Ukraine through another country.
According to reports, the adolescent attempted to go back to his residence unaccompanied earlier this year. Lvova-Belova informed journalists in April that Russian officials apprehended Yerkmohin near the border between Russia and Belarus while he was en route to Ukraine. The ombudswoman contended that he was being transported there “under deceitful circumstances.”
Lawyer Bobrovska stated that Yermokhin needed to go back to Ukraine before turning 18, as he would then be eligible for conscription into the Russian military. Yermokhin had already received two notices to report to a military enlistment office in Russia, but it was later clarified that these were only for documentation purposes.
According to a statement from the human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets on his Telegram account, last month a total of 386 children were repatriated from Russia to Ukraine. Lubinets reaffirmed that Ukraine is committed to bringing all its citizens back to their home country.