On September 19, a high-level meeting has been held in New York on the initiative of Estonia—"Fighting for the Future: Ukrainian Children in War"— to urge the United Nations and the international community to advocate for the Ukrainian children suffering as a result of Russia's war.
September 19, Estonia, with Ukraine, Belgium and the United States, organizing an event with a focus on the situation of Ukrainian children in Russia's war of aggression. The event included speeches by Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200), President Alar Karis and the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska.
Other speakers included US Representative to the United Nations and Member of the US Cabinet Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib.
The aim of the event is to draw attention to the most pressing challenges and needs of Ukraine's children suffering in war and to bring forward solutions or steps on how the UN and the international community can further respond to it.
Russia has purposefully pursued a policy of forced transfer and deportation and indoctrination of Ukrainian children. Recently, details have emerged of similar operations in Belarus.
The Government of Ukraine has estimated that more than 19,000 children have been forcibly transferred or deported. After deportation to Russia or transfer to the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, children are exposed to pro-Russia propaganda, subjected to re-education, and in some cases adopted by Russian families.
To address both the immediate and prolonged consequences while stopping and alleviating the suffering of children, it is imperative to take urgent and cohesive action.
The speeches were followed by a discussion with Dmytro Lubinets, Ukrainian parliament commissioner for human rights; Andriy Kostin, prosecutor general of Ukraine; and Olena Rozvadovska, co-founder and head of the NGO Voices of Children.
Karis: We cannot let Russia to destroy or violently steal childhoods
President Alar Karis joined Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska to give the opening address at the event, which was moderated by Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna. "Every child deserves normal childhood, we cannot let Russia to destroy or violently steal it," the head of state said.
"Life and death are intertwined in Ukraine. Where there was a house a month ago, there is now a nine-story cemetery. Not only is Russia unleashing the horrors of war on Ukraine, but it is also kidnapping Ukrainian children; tens of thousands have been forcibly deported to Russia and Belarus, sent to camps to brainwash."
"Spelling out these words is already painful; imagining it is excruciating. We need to talk about this."
"We must also do everything we can to stop this and bring those who have committed these crimes against humanity to justice. We must do that for the sake of all the children of Ukraine and their families; we cannot let this world be barbaric; every child deserves a normal childhood; we cannot let Russia destroy or violently steal it."
President Karis talked about his visits to Ukraine since the start of the war, most recently to Kyiv with his wife, Sirje Karis, who took part in a summit of the spouses of heads of state focusing on children's mental health issues.
"I have seen burned bodies, ashes, and ruins, but the saddest sight I have ever seen is the memorial in Kyiv to the more than 500 children who have lost their lives due to the war. Many more have been injured."
Karis said that almost two thirds of all children in Ukraine have had to leave their homes and that only one third are able to attend school. "We cannot simply stand by and watch this injustice unfold," he urged. "We cannot allow Russia's cruelty to continue."
Tsahkna: This is the duty of the international community
Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna in his address emphasized that Russia's attacks on civilian infrastructure have destroyed homes, hospitals, school buildings, power and water plants, which has significantly affected the welfare and safety of Ukraine's civilians, including many children.
"Every day we are horrified to read reports about civilians, including children and infants, suffering or dying in yet another missile attack by Russia. Russia's actions clearly demonstrate that Putin's place is in front of a tribunal," the minister said.
He added that we cannot wait for the war to end, instead, we must begin reconstruction today. "This is the only way we can support the future of Ukrainian children and offer them hope," the minister said, adding that this is why Estonia has built a new kindergarten in the Zhytomyr Oblast, opened in June.
In cooperation with the fund of First Lady Olena Zelenska, Estonia has also begun building family houses to provide homes for orphaned children.
Tsahkna also highlighted the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia and Belarus as a grave violation of international humanitarian law.
"Estonia welcomes the warrants issued by the International Criminal Court for the arrest of Putin and Lvova-Belova. Unfortunately, this will not bring the children back. It is the duty of the international community to do everything in our power to bring back the deported children and prevent these kinds of crimes in the future," the minister said.
The aim of the event was to discuss the most urgent challenges and the needs of Ukraine's children, and propose concrete solutions.
Recording of the event could be watched here.
Editor: Kristina Kersa