The first four Ukrainian children are to be returned from Russia this week, according to Qatari officials in a mechanism agreed upon with Moscow after months of negotiation.

Financial Times reported in July that Saudi Arabia and Turkey were in negotiation with Moscow and Kyiv to broker a deal that would allow possibly thousands of children taken to Russia and held in children’s homes or adopted by Russian families to return home.

A Qatar spokesperson announced on Friday that it had negotiated for a 7-year-old boy to be reunited with his grandmother and was on his way back to Ukraine via Estonia with three more children, a boy aged 2, a 9-year-old boy, and a 17-year-old girl, to be released this week.

According to Reuters, the four children represent the test case for a mechanism that has been set up after months of secret talks, though it is unclear if this is linked to the earlier discussions.

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Qatar’s spokesperson for the minister of state for international cooperation, Lolwah Al Khater, confirmed the mediation in a statement on her X account, thanking both Russia and Ukraine “for their commitment to the successful reunification of Ukrainian kids with their families” and promised this as “only a first step.”

Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for whom the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a war crimes warrant for her and President Putin for their part in the abduction of Ukrainian children, said she had an initial list of Ukrainian children to be returned.

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It is not clear how many children are on this list or how many additional minors abducted by Russia will be authorized to return to Ukraine via the Qatari mechanism after the first four, a Qatari official said.

Kyiv has identified nearly 20,000 children who were taken to Russia or Russian-held territory without the consent of family or guardians, of which about 400 children have been returned to Ukraine since Moscow’s full-scale invasion began in February 2022.

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Nada Al-Nashif, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights said at a Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on Monday, Oct. 9 that she “remains gravely concerned that there is no established system to return Ukrainian children who were transferred to other regions in Russian-occupied territory or to the Russian Federation.”

She went on to say that many of those children who had been returned “experiencing or witnessing psychological or physical violence,” while being held.

In April, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyanski, denied his country was responsible for the forced transfers of children, and claimed its army is in fact “saving” them.

He told the UK’s Sky News: “Of course it’s not a war crime. We’ve been accused of stealing children but in fact, we’re saving children from the Ukrainian army.”

He went on to claim that “the vast majority of them arrived with their parents or relatives.

“Of course, there is some number of orphans, but these orphans are being taken temporarily by foster families. It’s not adoption, it’s guardianship, it’s a different situation,” he maintained.

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