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Ukraine vows to bring back children forcibly taken to Russia

Kidnapping orphans is 'total fascism,' deputy PM says

KYIV — Ukraine is trying to bring back children who have been forcibly taken to Russia from regions occupied by Russian forces, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a recent interview with Nikkei Asia.

Vereshchuk, charged with evacuating civilians and internally displaced people, said Russia is trying to forcibly assimilate the orphans through adoption, adding that “kidnapping” them is “total fascism.”

While humanitarian corridors were created to help evacuate women, children and the elderly from the country’s battered port city of Mariupol in April and May, Ukraine said some 2,000 orphans were kidnapped by Russian forces.

Ukraine claims that 1.2 million Ukrainians, including 240,000 children, have been forcibly moved to Russia.

“They do everything in front of the eyes of the world [and] they know it is a crime against humanity,” Vereshchuk said.

The Ukrainian government is making efforts to bring back residents forcibly taken to Russia via the Baltic States, with support from international organizations, European embassies in Russia and Russian volunteer groups, she added.

Kyiv has been investigating the whereabouts of the children who have been forcibly moved. Vereshchuk said that Ukraine has brought back 27 Ukrainian orphans from Belgorod, a city in western Russia, as well as Donetsk and other regions occupied by pro-Russian militant groups.

“We will find all the children in Russia and send them back to Ukraine,” Vereshchuk said.

Vereshchuk also expressed concern about the situation in the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, which Russia is trying to annex by forcing residents to obtain Russian passports and use the Russian ruble.

She noted that despite cash handouts and threats from Russia, only about 50 residents have applied for Russian passports in 10 days since Russia started issuing them.

“Resistance of the people is very high and that is why we must liberate the territories. We fight for the people,” she said.

Vereshchuk admitted that Ukraine’s artillery is outnumbered 20 to 1 by Russia’s in hard-fought regions in eastern Ukraine, and fierce bombardment has made it difficult for Ukraine to create humanitarian corridors for its residents.

“We are strongly motivated and have a strong will for victory, but we cannot do it with bare hands,” Vereshchuk said, urging Europe and the U.S. to quickly provide weapons to Ukraine.

She repeated that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s administration will maintain its policy of restoring the country’s territory to what it was before Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin came here not for the land. He came here to destroy the Ukrainian nation and state,” Vereshchuk said. “Even if we theoretically give him some parts of our territories, he will never stop.”

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