Ukrainian Orphan Taken to Russia Returns Home to Family

Thousands of children have been removed from occupied regions
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 19, 2023 12:10 PM CST
Ukrainian Orphan Taken to Russia Returns Home to Family
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian teenager Bohdan Yermokhin, right, holds the Ukraine flag on the Ukraine-Belarus border in Ukraine on Sunday.   (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via 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 thanked UNICEF and Qatari negotiators for facilitating his return, the AP reports.

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 AP that Yermokhin repeatedly expressed the desire to go home and had talked daily about "getting to Ukraine, to his relatives." The teenager reportedly tried to return home on his own earlier this year. When he turned 18, he would have become eligible for conscription into the Russian army.

Yermokhin was one of thousands of 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. The Kremlin has dismissed the warrants as 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.

(Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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