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Human RightsAn Orthodox priest's wife is accused along with Putin of deporting Ukrainian...

An Orthodox priest’s wife is accused along with Putin of deporting Ukrainian children

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The International Criminal Court in The Hague accused Putin and the children’s ombudsman of the President of the Russian Federation, Maria Lvova-Belova, of war crimes. An arrest warrant has been issued for both of them. The accusation is that thousands of Ukrainian children were deported to Russia and held in camps or handed over to Russian families, which in wartime is considered a war crime.

Maria Lvova-Belova is the wife of a priest who was ordained in 2019. This is the year his wife became a member of the United Russia party and was immediately elected a member of the party’s presidium.

Previously, Maria Lvova-Belova headed a foundation in Penza for the care of disabled and elderly people. Demonstrated great activity, widely covered by the media – took custody of more than ten disabled children, performed mass baptisms of sick children, to whom she became godmother. Opens care centers for the disabled, collects donations. She herself has five children and as many adopted children. In the local press, from the homes for the disabled, there are reports against her of abuses, for making loans in the name of the patients with whom her foundation has access, but they remain uninvestigated. She is also accused of being rude to children, with whom she communicates only when media and sponsors come, of often accepting orphaned children into her home with promises of adoption, after which they are returned to orphanages, etc. However, she creates a strong media image of a young leader, and the acceptance of church rank by her husband, until then a programmer by profession, contributes to her image as a church benefactor.

At the end of 2021, she was chosen by President Putin as the ombudsman for children’s rights, where she replaced the previous ombudsman, Anna Kuznetsova, also the wife of a priest.

The removal of Ukrainian children from the territories occupied by Russian troops began to be reported at the beginning of the war. Initially, the Russian side claimed that it was only orphan children, permanently placed in homes, who were taken to Russia and given for adoption to families, mainly in the Far East.

On March 8, 2022, Le Monde newspaper published an open letter from a collective of intellectuals and child psychiatrists: “Deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia has signs of genocide.” Among other things, the letter notes that “the forced resettlement of minors in Russia is part of Vladimir Putin’s project to eradicate the Ukrainian identity and nation.”

On April 13, children’s ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova stated at the All-Russian Forum “To live and be brought up in a family” that it is important for orphaned children from the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics to be placed in Russian families. In July, it became known that 108 children aged 5 to 16, taken out of orphanages in the DPR in Russia, were placed with adoptive families in Moscow, Moscow, Voronezh, Kaluga and Tula regions, as well as in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District. All children received Russian citizenship under a simplified procedure. As of August 8 of this year, according to data from Lvova-Belova, about 400 orphaned children from the LPR can be adopted by families from 11 Russian regions. According to the ombudsman, these are only children who have lived in orphanages for a long time.

On May 30, Russian President Putin simplified the granting of Russian citizenship to Ukrainian orphans. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized that in this way “Putin practically legalized child abduction.”

On June 14, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, Afshan Khan, said that Ukrainian children taken to Russia after the start of the war should not be adopted by Russian families. From the point of view of international law, the forcible deportation of minors to an aggressor country is considered a crime against humanity.

According to official data of Mikhail Mizintsev, head of the Russian National Center for Defense Management, as of June 18, 307,423 children were taken from Ukraine to Russia. Of these, two to five thousand are orphans, and the rest are taken “for rehabilitation, recreation in camps, evacuated to a safe place.”

According to the Ukrainian side, nearly 700,000 children have been deported to Russia to date. Many parents have no contact with their children, nor do they know their whereabouts.

In November 2022, a conference was held in Paris dedicated to the “illegal deportation of children from Ukraine during the full-scale aggression of Russia”. In it, the writer Jonathan Littel compares the methods of the Russians and the Nazis, who forcibly adopted tens of thousands of “Aryan” children from Poland.

The judgment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague states that “There are reasonable grounds to believe that Ms. Lvova-Belova is personally responsible for the aforementioned crimes, having committed these acts directly, jointly with other persons and (or) through the actions of other persons’. Maria Lvova-Beleva said for her part that she accepts the decision of the court in The Hague as recognition of her activity:

“It’s great that the international community appreciates the work we do to help children in our country, that we don’t leave them in a war zone, that we take them outside, that we create good conditions for them, that we surround them with loving and caring people. There were sanctions against me from all countries, even from Japan, now there is an arrest warrant, I wonder what will happen next”.

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