President of Ukraine

Olena Zelenska during her visit to the Child Rights Protection Center: We cannot let down our children – childhood must be protected

22 March 2024 - 20:05

Olena Zelenska during her visit to the Child Rights Protection Center: We cannot let down our children – childhood must be protected

First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska discussed the return of Ukrainian children from Russian captivity with Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Education, and Sports of Liechtenstein Dominique Hasler.

The meeting took place with the participation of Commissioner for Human Rights of the Verkhovna Rada Dmytro Lubinets in Kyiv, at the Child Rights Protection Center, opened at the initiative of the President of Ukraine in 2023.

"This is a special place. It is here that children return from Russian deportation, forced displacement, and occupied territories. For them, the center serves as symbolic gates to a life free from restrictions, oppression, intimidation, and blackmail. At the same time, it is a center for restoring the rights of children in Ukraine that have been violated due to Russia's unprecedented aggression against our country," said Olena Zelenska.

She noted that Russia has kidnapped and taken out over 19,000 Ukrainian children.

"Ukraine is literally being deprived of its future. The whereabouts of children are being concealed. They are taken to distant regions, and their names and citizenship are changed. They are illegally adopted without the consent of relatives. The abduction, illegal deportation, and forced displacement of Ukrainian children are components of the genocide of the Ukrainian people and war crimes committed by the Russian Federation," said the First Lady.

She emphasized that as of today, only 388 children have been returned, while thousands remain hostages.

"This means that together, we need to act faster," added the President's wife.

Olena Zelenska stressed the importance of joint international efforts in this direction. In particular, this week Ukraine and Canada announced that 33 countries have already joined the International Coalition for the Return of Ukrainian Children.

"The work of the Coalition for the Return of Ukrainian Children is an important component of implementing the fourth point of the Ukrainian Peace Formula, the goal of which is to bring home all deported, captured, and illegally imprisoned Ukrainians. The Coalition, together with the international expert group, is working on finding new tools for return and establishing justice. Our team is making efforts not only towards repatriation but also towards the further reintegration of Ukrainians. We document human rights violations and work towards their restoration. And for us, it is crucial to have the support of partners, among which, undoubtedly, the Council of Europe is on this path," said Dmytro Lubinets.

Olena Zelenska thanked the guests for their consistent cooperation on behalf of the Council of Europe. Currently, Liechtenstein chairs the Committee of Ministers of this organization.

"Today, the Council of Europe remains the only international organization that not only expelled Russia from its ranks for violating its statutes and norms of international law but also proved to be the most effective international organization that continues to fight for the restoration of human rights, the rule of law, and democracy, for justice for all those who have suffered loss and pain. I would like to specifically mention the initiative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to create a Network on the situation of children in Ukraine as part of the implementation of the resolution adopted by the Assembly in January of this year, during the consideration of which I had the honor to address the parliamentarians of the member states," said the First Lady.

She expressed hope for further strengthening of cooperation for the liberation of all Ukrainian children from the captivity of the aggressor state: "We cannot let down our children – as a homeland, as adults, and as a civilized world where childhood must be protected."

During the visit to the Child Rights Protection Center, the guests met and talked with children who had been returned from the occupied territory: 14-year-old Kateryna, her cousins – 15-year-old Maksym, and 12-year-old Mykyta. They lived in Kherson region when the Russian invasion began. They ended up in occupation and were forced to attend a Russian school. Fourteen-year-old Kateryna, who has heart problems, found herself without proper medical care. In March of this year, the family was able to return to the territory controlled by Ukraine.