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Ukrainian teenager illegally taken from Mariupol to Russia returns to Ukraine

by The Kyiv Independent news desk November 19, 2023 2:24 PM 2 min read
Bohdan Yermokhin (R), one of many Ukrainian children illegally deported to Russia from the occupied territories of Ukraine, is reunited with his cousin and legal guardian. He was allowed to leave Russia after trying to escape it and making a public plea to President Volodymyr Zelensky to help him come back to Ukraine. (Facebook/Daria Kasianova)
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Bohdan Yermokhin, a Ukrainian teenager who was illegally deported by Russia from occupied Mariupol, has successfully left Russia and returned to Ukraine after trying to do so for months, according to the Kyiv Independent's sources and Russian opposition media reports.

According to Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets, Yermokhin arrived back in Ukraine on his 18th birthday, Nov. 19.

Russian authorities deported Yermokhin, an orphan, following the occupation of Mariupol in May 2022. He was placed with a foster family in Moscow Oblast in October, and served with a conscription notice in November 2023, ahead of his 18th birthday.

Russian authorities have been illegally deporting Ukrainian children from the occupied territories to Russia, placing them in foster families, where they are raised as Russians. (Watch our recent investigative documentary about this: "Uprooted").

Yermokhin was taken to Belarus, a neighbor of Russia, where he reunited with his cousin, who has become his legal guardian. According to a public statement by Russian authorities, he flew to Belarus on the evening of Nov. 18.

Lubinets reported on Nov. 10 that agreements had been made for Yermokhin's return to Ukraine.

"It was our team at the Ombudsman's Office that worked out the way to return the boy together with other state authorities as part of the implementation of the approved action plan of the Ukrainian President, Bring Kids Back UA," Lubinets wrote in a post on Nov. 19.

According to Lubinets, Ukraine cooperated with Qatar, UNICEF Ukraine, and Ukraine's embassy in Belarus after negotiations with Russia to return Yermokhin back to Ukraine.

"It was a thorny path," Lubinets said. "Bohdan went through a lot while in Russia, but despite everything he wanted to be home! Today, his wish has come true. I am sure that Bohdan will never forget his 18th birthday!"

Yermokhin's case is a high-profile one. In March, Russian authorities claimed that he tried to flee Russia for Ukraine, but was captured close to the border.

When Yermokhin received the summons to a military recruitment center, he recorded a video appealing to President Volodymyr Zelensky for help. His Ukrainian lawyer published it on Facebook.

Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova claimed that Yermokhin had signed a written confirmation in August 2023 indicating that he did not plan to return to Ukraine. Yermokhin's lawyer said the teenager was forced to sign the statement.

The Ukrainian government has identified over 19,500 children who have been deported or forcibly displaced by Russia. Almost 400 of them have been returned to Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Lvova-Belova and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in March 2023 over their role in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children.

Stolen generation. Russia systematically abducts children from Ukraine, gives them to Russian families
Editor’s Note: The story is based on the documentary Uprooted, published by the Kyiv Independent’s War Crimes Investigation Unit. Russia is systematically deporting Ukrainian children from the occupied part of Ukraine against their will – which constitutes genocide according to one of the five defi…
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