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Olena Zelenska uses Riga visit to address issue of Ukrainian children kidnapped by Russia

Olena Zelenska speaking in Riga this week.
Olena Zelenska speaking in Riga this week. Source: SCANPIX/EPA

The first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, was in Riga this week, where she spoke about the issue of the large number of Ukrainian children who have been kidnapped by the Russian Federation and held in that country, and ways to solve this.

Daria Herasymchuk, the Ukrainian president's commissioner for children's rights, says that that Russia has been abducting Ukrainian children en masse, and taking them to Russia.

Nearly 20,000 children have been abducted by Russia from the occupied territories of Ukraine, principally the Donbas, and conveyed to Russia and also Belarus.

Fewer than 400 of these have so far returned.

Meanwhile, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported that Latvia's leaders have assured Olena Zelenska that they will be approaching the international community on the issue.

The aim would be to get from those countries greater contributions towards the liberation of Ukrainian children from the hands of the occupiers, in order to reunite families.

In fact over 60 nations are already addressing this issue in depth, AK reported, though it is felt that the UN could play a greater role here too.

Speaking at a presentation in Riga titles "Kidnapped by Russia," the Ukrainian first lady evoked the Geneva Convention, which states that when a terrorist state, in this case Russia, refuses to negotiate directly with Ukraine, the latter's children can be transported either back to their country of origin or citizenship, or also to a third country not a party to the conflict.

As such, the Baltic states could be a suitable fit, Zelenska went on.

To underscore the severity of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, now nearly two years old, Zelenska added that: "We now know for sure that 520 children have died during the two-year Russian invasion. There are on top of that already more than a thousand injured children."

Some Ukrainian children who have arrived in Riga spoke to AK.

One, Veronica, said: "While we were in Russia, we were told that there is not, was never, and will not ever be a Ukrainian state, and that we are all Russians."

Another, Ilya, was injured as a result of the invasion, and ended up in a hospital in Russian-occupied Ukraine, where he was propagandized to even by medical staff.

"While I was in the hospital in Donetsk and couldn't move due to my injured leg, I was taught to write in Russian. Then a doctor told me that if you want to say 'Glory to Ukraine', you instead have to say 'glory to Ukraine as part of the Russian Federation,'"

Ivan told AK that he had been threatened at gunpoint.

"We left Mariupol on foot and had been walking for a long time before we reached the Russian checkpoint. We were then told that we would be taken to Donetsk. We didn't agree to that, so we went to a bus stop, to try to get to the Zaporizhzhia region. Next, we were threatened at gunpoint," he said.

A fourth child, Sasko, also told AK his story. "It was like this: They turned on the TV, which was broadcasting Russian propaganda. They stated that Russia was the best, but I didn't believe that. I said Ukraine was far better," he recounted.

Less than two percent of those Ukrainian children deported to Russia have so far been able to return to their home country so far, AK reported.

Other actions by Russian authorities have including luring children to a summer camp in Russia on the pretext of avoiding the conflict, but once there, there is no escape.

Russia claims these children are predominantly orphans, but in fact they do have parents and family, AK reported.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Ragnar Kond.

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