A teenager taken from occupied Mariupol to Russia will return to Ukraine, officials say


TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Ukrainian and Russian officials on Friday reported reaching an agreement to bring a Ukrainian teenager taken to Russia amid the war last year back to his home country, in accordance with his wishes.

Bohdan Yermokhin, a 17-year-old whose parents passed away years ago, will be reunited with a cousin “in a third country” on his 18th birthday later this month, with a view to then return to Ukraine, Russian children’s rights ombudswoman Maria Lvova-Belova said in an online statement Friday. Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets also confirmed on Friday that Yermokhin “will soon be in Ukraine.”

Yermokhin is one of thousands of Ukrainian children taken to Russia from Ukrainian regions occupied since the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion, an effort that has prompted the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and Lvova-Belova. Judges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, said they found “reasonable grounds to believe” the two were responsible for war crimes, including the illegal deportation and transfer of children from occupied Ukrainian regions to Russia — something an AP investigation detailed earlier this year.

The Kremlin has dismissed the warrants as null and void, insisting that Russia doesn’t recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC. Lvova-Belova has argued that the children were taken to Russia for their safety, not abducted — a claim widely rejected by the international community.

Yermokhin was taken to Russia from the port city of Mariupol, seized by Moscow’s forces early on in the war. He was placed in a foster family in the Moscow region and given Russian citizenship, but repeatedly expressed the desire to return to Ukraine, according to Kateryna Bobrovska, a Ukrainian lawyer who represents the teenager and his cousin, 26-year-old Valeria Yermokhina, his legal guardian in Ukraine.

The teenager apparently even tried to get to his home country on his own: in April Lvova-Belova told reporters that the Russian authorities caught Yerkmohin near Russia’s border with Belarus, as he was heading to Ukraine. The children’s rights ombudswoman argued that he was being taken there “under false pretenses.”

Lvova-Belova said Friday that in August, her office offered Yermokhin the option of returning to Ukraine, but he “clearly stated that he doesn’t plan to move to Ukraine before turning 18 and confirmed it in writing.” He later changed his mind, she said, and an agreement with Ukraine regarding his return was reached.

Last month, Lubinets said in his Telegram channel that a total of 386 children have been brought back to Ukraine from Russia. “Ukraine will work until it returns everyone to their homeland,” Lubinets stressed.

Lawyer Bobrovska told The Associated Press in a phone interview that Yermokhin tells her “daily that he dreams about getting to Ukraine, to his relatives.”

“Bohdan is happy that things have moved along, and now he lives in anticipation of leaving for a third country, where he will turn 18, and then end up in his native Ukraine,” she said.

According to her, time is of the essence: Yermokhin’s birthday is on Nov. 19, and turning 18 makes him eligible for conscription into the Russian army. He has already received two summonses from a military enlistment office to appear in December, Bobrovska said, and there’s a “real threat” that he may be drafted.

Lvova-Belova in her Friday statement said that Yermokhin was only being summoned for record-keeping purposes and rejected claims that the teenager could be conscripted, saying that as a college student, he had a deferment.

Bobrovska in conversation with the AP, expressed hope that “success in Bohdan’s case will allow other Ukrainian children in a similar situation to press for returning to Ukraine.”

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