Kremlin-armed militants continue to terrorise and use children as hostages
40 children from a Luhansk children’s home abducted by Kremlin-backed militants on Saturday are now in Ukraine and safe, however militants are still refusing to allow the evacuation of other children with medical conditions from the area of fighting. According to an Interior Ministry spokesperson Zoryan Shkiryak, there are 323 children, including at least 135 children with medical problems, who urgently need to be evacuated.
Shkiryak says that the ministry’s efforts to ensure the evacuation of children in need of medical care from the zone of conflict in the Donetsk oblast have been unsuccessful. The militants have categorically prohibited their evacuation.
There are 135 such children from the Donetsk city and Donetsk regional children’s homes (41 and 48 children, respectively), as well as 46 children with HIV from the Malyatko Children’s Home in Makiyivka.
Shkiryak promises that those preventing the children being evacuated to safety will be identified and severely punished in accordance with Ukrainian law. He accuses the militants of using far-fetched pretexts to block any attempt to resolve the impasse; of using blackmail; threatening the staff of the children’s homes and prohibiting their evacuation.
In her account of the effort taking on Saturday to prevent 40 infants, of whom 18 were less than a year old, from being taken to Russia, Ombudsperson Valeria Lutkovska noted that her secretariat has long been calling for the evacuation of all children from the area of conflict.
As reported, forty infants in need of constant medical care, and 20 members of staff from a Luhansk children’s home were abducted just after 5 p.m. on July 26. Coordinated efforts between Ukraine’s foreign ministry, and especially the Ukrainian consul in the Rostov region of Russia; the interior ministry and the Ombudsperson’s Secretariat made it possible to rescue the children whom the militants were indeed trying to take into Russia.
One especially worrying aspect of this incident is the actions by Russian officials. Lutkovska had phoned human rights activists in Russia and the Russian Human Rights Ombudsperson, Ella Pamfilova and received assurances that they would provide full support for efforts to ensure that the children were not taken into Russia.
A route had been worked out for how the children in two buses were likely to be taken and for where they were expected to cross the border, and it was there that the Ukrainian consul sped.
At around 22.00 false information came from both the Russian Embassy and from the Russian Ombudsperson saying that the children were already in the Rostov region . This led to the consul changing course and going to the wrong place.
That this could have happened is shocking. 40 infants with serious medical problems would have been totally exhausted by then. Most were probably terrified since the militants would have been armed. That misinformation achieved nothing except added suffering for the children.
After being sent wrong, the Ukrainian consul reached Izvarino – the correctly anticipated border crossing point at around 1 a.m. Agreement was reached for how the children were to be returned, and at around 8 a.m. they crossed back into Ukraine where they were examined by doctors. They are temporarily living in pre-school camp premises and attempts are underway to find a suitable place for them to stay in a safe zone.
This is not the first time that children have been forcibly taken by militants into Russia. In the middle of June a plane was used to bring 16 orphans home after their bus was seized and taken to Russia. On that occasion, the European Court of Human Rights responded immediately ordering Russia to provide an explanation for the children’s illegal transportation across the border.
While western reports still speak of insurgents or rebels, it is difficult to understand how any term but terrorist can describe the behaviour of armed men prepared to terrify and risk the safety of children, especially infants with serious health problems, cynically using them as hostages.
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