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Ukraine's human rights activist Mariia Sulialina. (Civil Rights Defenders)
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Ukraine's human rights activist Mariia Sulialina has won the 2024 Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award, the organization announced on April 25. Sulialina, who heads the Ukrainian human rights organization Almenda, has been documenting Russia's war crimes against children.

The Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award is presented for outstanding work in the defense of civil and political rights. It is awarded yearly by Civil Rights Defenders, a Stockholm-based organization that was founded as the Swedish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in 1982.

"Ukrainian human rights defender Mariia Sulialina has, at a young age, already achieved the accomplishments of a lifetime.

"Despite personal losses and great risks, she has continued her work to document war crimes and other grave violations against children and ensure justice for children from the occupied territories of Ukraine who have fallen victim to indoctrination and deportation," the Civil Rights Defenders’ Board of Directors said in its award justification.

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, at least 545 Ukrainian children have been killed, and over 19,500 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia.

Children who have been deported to Russia from the occupied territories of Ukraine often undergo re-education and indoctrination, with many being adopted by Russian families. Ukraine has returned 388 children to date, according to the Children of War database.

Those who stay in the occupied territories also face indoctrination, attending Russian schools that aim to persuade them to endorse the conflict, sometimes alleging that Ukraine initiated it.

"Children in the occupied territories are often invisible. The younger they are, the more influence propaganda has on them," says Sulialina. "...it is our obligation to protect them from militarization and indoctrination and to ensure that the reintegration processes take their needs into account. This award is very important for our organization as it brings more attention to children's rights in the occupied territories of Ukraine and brings us closer to attaining accountability."

Sulialina was 18 years old when Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula, forcing her to leave her hometown of Yalta. Upon relocating to Kyiv, she started documenting human rights abuses committed in the occupied areas.

Since 2013, Sulialina has worked at Almenda, an organization that records evidence of human rights abuses by collecting photographs and video clips and conducting interviews with teachers and parents. Almenda was founded by a group of human rights defenders in Yalta, Crimea, in 2011.

The Kyiv Independent's war crimes investigations unit traced the involvement of Russian-controlled officials in the abductions of Ukrainian children forcibly deported to Russia.

Our award-winning documentary, "Uprooted," exposes these events.

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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