Ambassador of Qatar to Russia Sheikh Ahmed bin Nasser Al Thani and Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights Maria Lvova-Belova (unseen) interact with Ukrainian children, at the Qatari embassy in Moscow on Monday.—AFP
Ambassador of Qatar to Russia Sheikh Ahmed bin Nasser Al Thani and Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights Maria Lvova-Belova (unseen) interact with Ukrainian children, at the Qatari embassy in Moscow on Monday.—AFP

MOSCOW: Eleven Ukrainian children were setting off from Russia to Ukraine on Monday to be reunited with their families in the latest transfer between the warring sides under a Qatari-mediated scheme.

The children, aged between two and 16, were hosted at the Qatari embassy in Moscow on Monday, ahead of a long journey via Belarus that should see them cross into northwestern Ukraine on Tuesday.

This latest operation includes several children with special medical needs, including two aged five and six who have chronic conditions.

Groups of children began to be transferred from Ukraine to Russia under the scheme in October.

Russia says a total of 59 children have been repatriated to Ukraine through the mechanism.

Kyiv has accused Moscow of dividing families and moving children from Russian-held parts of Ukraine to Russia to brainwash them, while Moscow has said it is doing this only for their safety.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court last year issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin and his children’s commissioner on the accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.

“Qatar has been working closely with its Russian and Ukrainian counterparts, making progress on the reunification initiative, but also looking for ways to build trust in other areas,” Lolwah Al-Khater, Qatar’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, said in a statement.

“We will continue to mediate between the two sides as long as it is requested, with the hope that it can eventually lead to a de-escalation in the conflict,” she said.

Qatari diplomats will accompany the children.

Among them is a 16-year-old boy whose family members died while evacuating from the Lugansk region in Ukraine and who is being reunited with an aunt who has acquired guardianship over him.

A five-year-old boy who had been living with his grandparents in Russian-held territory is going to be reunited with his mother.

A 14-year-old boy whose mother, a member of the armed forces, was held by Russia as a prisoner of war for several months in 2022, will also be able to see her again.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2024

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