KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An orphaned Ukrainian teenager who was taken to Russia last year during the war in his country returned home after being reunited with relatives in Belarus on his 18th birthday Sunday.
Bohdan Yermokhin was pictured embracing family members in Minsk in photographs shared on social media by Russia’s children’s rights ombudswoman, Maria Lvova-Belova.
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.
Yermokhin’s parents died two years ago, before Russia invaded Ukraine. Early in the war, he was taken from the port city of Mariupol, where he lived with a cousin who was his legal guardian, placed with a foster family in the Moscow region and given Russian citizenship, according to Ukrainian lawyer Kateryna Bobrovska.
Bobrovska, who represents the teenager and his 26-year-old cousin, Valeria Yermokhina, previously told The Associated Press that Yermokhin repeatedly expressed the desire to go home and had talked daily about “getting to Ukraine, to his relatives.”
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 court in The Hague, Netherlands, issued warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova’s arrests, saying they found “reasonable grounds to believe” the two were responsible for the illegal deportation and transfer of children from Ukraine.
The Kremlin has dismissed the warrants as null and void. Lvova-Belova has argued that the children were taken to Russia for their safety, not abducted — a claim widely rejected by the international community. Nevertheless, the children’s rights ombudswoman announced in a Nov. 10 online statement that Yermokhin would be allowed to return to Ukraine via a third country.
The teenager reportedly tried to return home on his own earlier this year. Lvova-Belova told reporters in April that Russian authorities caught Yerkmohin near Russia’s border with Belarus on his way to Ukraine. The ombudswoman argued that he was being taken there “under false pretenses.”
Before he was allowed to leave Russia, lawyer Bobrovska described an urgent need for Yermokhin to return to Ukraine before his 18th birthday, when he would become eligible for conscription into the Russian army. The teenager had received two official notices to attend a military enlistment office in Russia, although officials later said he had only been summoned for record-keeping purposes.
Last month, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said in his Telegram channel that a total of 386 children have been brought back to Ukraine from Russia. “Ukraine will work until it returns everyone to their homeland,” Lubinets stressed.
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