Belarusian state media reported that 48 Ukrainian children arrived in Belarus on Tuesday from Ukrainian regions that Moscow claims it has annexed.
The group of children came from the occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia. They include children from towns captured by the Russian army in July 2022. These areas were illegally annexed by Moscow in December last year, but Russia does not have full control over them.
In the photos released by the Belarusian state news agency Belta, the children are shown holding the red and green Belarusian national flag and are said to be thanking the Belarusian authorities, while being flanked by police and MAT.
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The removal of the children from Ukraine was organized by a Belarusian charity, supported by President Alexander Lukashenko, which has previously organized health recovery programs for Ukrainian children in Belarus.
“The president, despite external pressure, said that this important humanitarian work should continue,” Alexei Talai, head of the charity, told Belarusian state news agency Belta in an interview. “All the people of Belarus,” he said, want to help “children from ruined cities and towns in the new territories of Russia.”
Belarusian officials have previously denied allegations that Belarus helped illegally remove children from Ukraine.
In June, Belarusian opposition figures gave the International Criminal Court material they said showed more than 2,100 Ukrainian children from at least 15 Russian-held Ukrainian cities were forcibly transferred to Belarus with Lukashenko’s approval.
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Pavel Latushka, a former Belarusian culture minister, hopes the footage will prompt the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for Lukashenko, as it did for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We are seeing more and more evidence related to the illegal transportation of children from Ukraine to Belarus, and this will continue until international organizations react and stop Minsk,” Latushko said in an interview with The Associated Press.
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In March, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova. Judges 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 territories to Russia.
Belarus has been Moscow’s closest ally since the Russian invasion began in February 2022, when Lukashenko allowed the Kremlin to send troops and weapons to Ukraine from Belarus. Russia has also deployed tactical nuclear weapons there.