Putin ally under international arrest warrant admits that Russia stopped Mariupol child from returning to Ukraine
Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s so-called ‘commissioner for children’s rights in the office of the Russian President’, has publicly stated that Russia’s FSB stopped 17-year-old Bohdan Yermokhin from returning, via Belarus and Poland, to Ukraine several months after he was illegally taken to Russia from Mariupol by the invading forces. In her version of events, the Russians were ‘saving’ the young lad from perfidious Ukrainians who had, purportedly, used “threats and manipulation” to get him back to Ukraine. This is, however, suspect for several reasons, not least because the public briefing comes less than three weeks after the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against both Lvova-Belova and Russian leader Vladimir Putin over reasonable grounds for believing that both bear “criminal responsibility for the unlawful deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”
All ‘information’ about Yermokhin’s attempted return came during with Lvova-Belova and another mouthpiece for the current Russian regime, Maria Zakharova. The entire event seemed rather staged with Lvova-Belova responding to a ‘question’ put by a correspondent from the state-controlled TV channel Rossiya who said that he and his colleagues were filming a ‘report’ on this “absolutely shocking story”. It was initially the Rossiya journalist who claimed that there had been an attempt “to trick Bohdan back to Ukrainian territory through manipulation and threats” with Lvova-Belova confirming this, but saying that “he was caught on the border with Belarus” by the Russian FSB. Lvova-Belova claims that the lad was helped by several people whom she refers to as ‘agents’ or ‘handlers’, who organized a car for him and passed him money.
Lvova-Belova assiduously avoids certain inconvenient facts, such as why children were sheltering in Mariupol basements and also presents the 31 children taken first to occupied Donetsk and then to Russia as kids rejected by foster parents in Ukraine and ‘rescued’ by the Russians. She claims that the Russians who have taken these Ukrainian children are also receiving “threats” from Ukraine, and promises that the children will be returned. She does not, however, deny that Bohdan has an adult sister whom he was trying to reach in Ukraine, nor that he needed to be “caught”. While it is harder to confirm or refute Lvova-Belova’s assertions regarding Bohdan (his supposed ‘pro-Russian’ pro-war views and activities) and Philip, the 16-year-old she claims to have ‘adopted’, we do know about another family whose three children were among the 31 who Lvova-Belova mentions. The three children: Matviy Mezhevyi and his two younger sisters, Sviatoslava and Oleksandra, were taken to Russia after their father, Yevhen Mezhevyi, was seized by Russian soldiers and taken to the notorious ‘filtration’ camp at Olenivka in occupied Donetsk oblast. It was literally only thanks to quick thinking from Matviy and the help that his father received from a charity helping to rescue such children that Yevhen was able to get to Moscow in time to save his children from being handed over illegally for ‘adoption’ (more details here). It may well be because of the accounts given by Yevhen Mezhevyi and his family, as well as other Ukrainian children whom Ukraine has been able to return, that the briefing and claims about Bohdan were staged. There is no information as to where Bohdan is at present, and the BBC’s Russian Service that he has not been seen on his social media page since 23 March.
The other reason for such public attempts to accuse Ukraine of “cynically using children” and of telling lies is, undoubtedly, to issue arrest warrants against Putin and Lvova-Belova . 123 member states now have the legal obligation to comply with this arrest warrant. ICC President Piotr Hofmański explained at the time that Putin is believed to bear individual criminal responsibility “both i) for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others (article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute), and (ii) for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control, pursuant to superior responsibility (article 28(b) of the Rome Statute).” In the case of Lvova-Belova, she has certainly committed acts which are prohibited under international law, and has done so very publicly. Both she and Putin have openly advocated the supposed ‘adoption’ of Ukrainian children taken to Russia, and Putin issued a decree, back on 20 May 2022, simplifying the procedure for adopting ‘Ukrainian orphans’. They and numerous other officials have taken part in all sorts of propaganda videos which, regardless of the narrative they use, provide proof of deportations and attempts to indoctrinate Ukrainian children. In September 2022, Lvova-Belova that the 30 Ukrainian children from Mariupol who had been taken to Moscow region had “said foul things” about Putin and had sung the Ukrainian national anthem and chanted ‘Glory to Ukraine’, “and all that stuff”. She was clearly boasting, not only of their forced deportation to Russia, but also of their planned ‘re-education’.
Russia’s deportation of children is already being treated as a likely war crime. It may also constitute a crime against humanity or an act of genocide. In defining “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide specifically names “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” [Article II(e)]. This Russia has been doing, and Lvova-Belova has been boasting about, since 2014, and on a mass scale since the beginning of its full invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. She has now, just as openly, admitted that Russia “caught” and prevented a child from returning home to Ukraine and to his sister.