Russia and Ukraine agreed in a Qatari-brokered deal to exchange almost 50 children displaced by Moscow’s invasion, the Kremlin’s children’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova announced in Doha on Wednesday.

Moscow has been accused of forcibly taking Ukrainian children into Russian territory during its full-scale offensive, with Lvova-Belova wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges related to those allegations.

“For the first time in a face-to-face format, we held talks with the Ukrainian side. Twenty-nine children are due to go to Ukraine and 19 to Russia,” Lvova-Belova announced. She provided no details on why the children were in Russian hands or where they had come from.

Ukraine believes that Russia has illegally taken more than 19,000 of its children since the start of the 2022 invasion, of which fewer than 400 have been returned. Moscow denies that charge, saying that it has transferred children for their safety away from fighting zones.

The fate of the children has been highly sensitive in Ukraine since the war began two years ago. Some of the children’s parents were killed, while others were separated from carers by the fast-moving front lines at the start of the invasion.

Some were living in Ukrainian orphanages in areas Russia then occupied. Ukraine says that Moscow’s forces illegally deported them to Russia, and accuses the Russian authorities of trying to wipe out their Ukrainian identity.

Teenagers that returned to Ukraine said that they were subjected to Russian patriotic education and made to praise the Russian army.

With AFP