Russia tries to mobilize 17-year-old Ukrainian illegally deported from Mariupol and prevented from returning to Ukraine
Bohdan Yermokhin’s lawyerthat the 17-year-old Ukrainian forcibly taken to Russia in July 2022 has been handed a summons to appear at a Russian military recruitment office on 13 December. The situation is critical as the lad is turning 18 on 19 November, and Kateryna Bobrovska is in no doubt that the Russian authorities are just waiting for him to cease being a minor in order to send him to the Russian armed forces.
As reported, Bohdan Yermokhin was forcibly taken to Russia from occupied Mariupol in July 2022 despite having a legal guardian (his cousin, Valeria) in Ukraine. He was one of a group of 31 children or teenagers who were taken to Moscow region, where at least some were placed with families. They include a young lad around the same age as Bohdan whom Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s so-called commissioner n children’s rights, has claimed to have ‘adopted’. Both Lvova-Belova and Putin have been under international arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court since 17 March 2023 over their role in Russia’s illegal deportation of Ukrainian children.
As of November 2023, Ukraine has only succeeded in securing the return of one teenager and the three children of Yevhen Mezhevyi. The latter is a former Ukrainian soldier and solo father who was seized by the Russians as he tried to get his children out of Mariupol and imprisoned (details here).
Lvova-Belova and Putin, together with Russian state media, have assiduously tried to present the children forcibly taken from their homes in Ukraine as having been ‘rescued’. While maintaining that narrative, Lvova-Belova has, at least twice, inadvertently told the very different truth. In September 2022,that the children that the Russians had abducted held pro-Ukrainian views which she made clear their abductors were working to eliminate.
In April 2023, only weeks after the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against her and Putin, Lvova-Belova publicly acknowledged that the FSB had ‘caught’ Bohdan Yermokhin when the latter had tried to leave Russia for Ukraine. She claimed that the Russians had ‘rescued’ Bohdan from Ukrainians who had, purportedly, used “threats and manipulation” to get the young boy back to Ukraine.
There is now further evidence that Lvova-Belova was lying. Bohdan’s lawyer has confirmed that the lad has made several attempts to return to Ukraine and to Valeria, but has been prevented each time. Russia has, in the meantime, foisted its citizenship on the young lad.
Bobrovska decided to sound the alarm and issued a public appeal on 6 November due to the measures Russia is taking to prevent Bohdan returning to Ukraine and the serious grounds for fearing that he will be forced into Russia’s war. Although officially 18-year-olds can be conscripted, but not sent to fight, there have been many cases since 2014 where young conscripts, through subterfuge or pressure, ended up on the front in Ukraine.
The Russian authorities are ignoring an appeal on behalf of Bohdan from Ukraine’s Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets.
On 28 August 2023, Lvova-Belova claimed that Bohdan had written a formal statement to her in which he purportedly stated that he did not plan to return to Ukraine before his 18-th birthday. Bohdan himself, however, managed to contact Bobrovska, and told her that he had signed this ‘statement’ under duress, with the Russians threatening, for example, to place him in a psychiatric hospital.
On 15 October Lvova-Belova claimed at a press conference that their priority with respect to Ukrainian children taken to Russia was to reunite families. This was evidently not the case with Yevhen Mezhevyi and his three children. It is now equally false with respect to Bohdan Yermokhin.
According to Bobrovska, she and Ukraine’s Ombudsman have prepared all necessary documents in order to be able to go and collect Bohdan at any moment. Valeria informed her on 24 October that a meeting had just taken place between Russia’s ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova, the Russian ‘guardian’ assigned to Bohdan and the young lad himself. He had been asked whether he wished to return to Ukraine and had stated clearly that he did. He later told Bobrovska that on the same day as that meeting, he was told that he needed to go to hospital for an operation over an “illness of his legs”. Earlier, during a medical examination, the doctors had said that the problems with his knees were purely age-related and would pass.
Such clear attempts to keep Bohdan in Russia seem especially sinister now that he has already been summoned to the military recruitment office. It is imperative that his plight receives maximum publicity, and that Russia is forced to allow him to return to Ukraine.