Orphaned Teen Returns to Relatives

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    Bohdan Yermokhin, right, holds the Ukrainian flag at the Ukraine-Belarus border on November 19, 2023. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
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    A woman sings the national anthem of Ukraine during a demonstration in central Kyiv, Ukraine, on November 18, 2023. Russia’s war in Ukraine is approaching the two-year mark. (AP/Alex Babenko)
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An orphaned Ukrainian teenager was taken to Russia last year during the war in his country. He reunited with relatives in Belarus on November 19—his 18th birthday.

Photographs shared on social media showed Bohdan Yermokhin embracing family members in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Andrii Yermak is the head of the Ukrainian president’s office. He confirmed that Bohdan had arrived in Ukraine. Yermak thanked UNICEF and Qatari negotiators for facilitating the teen’s return.

Bohdan’s parents died two years ago. He lived with a cousin, his legal guardian, in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. Early in the war, Russian officials placed him with a foster family in the Moscow region. He was given Russian citizenship, according to Ukrainian lawyer Kateryna Bobrovska.

Bobrovska represents the teenager and his 26-year-old cousin, Valeria Yermokhina. She says Bohdan repeatedly expressed the desire to go home. He talked daily about “getting to Ukraine, to his relatives.”

The teenager reportedly tried to return home on his own earlier this year. Russia’s children’s rights advocate, Maria Lvova-Belova, told reporters in April that Russian authorities caught Bohdan near Russia’s border with Belarus. He was on his way to Ukraine.

Bobrovska described an urgent need for Bohdan to return to Ukraine before his 18th birthday. At that age, he could be drafted into the Russian army. The teenager had already received two official notices to report to a military enlistment office in Russia.

On November 10, Lvova-Belova announced that Bohdan would be allowed to return to Ukraine.

Bohdan was one of thousands of Ukrainian children taken to Russia from occupied regions of Ukraine. The practice prompted the International Criminal Court in March to accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lvova-Belova of committing war crimes.

The court in The Hague, Netherlands, issued warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova. Court officials said they found “reasonable grounds to believe” the two were responsible for the illegal deportation and transfer of children from Ukraine.

The Kremlin dismissed the warrants. Lvova-Belova says the children were taken to Russia for their safety, not abducted. But most of the international community rejects that claim.

Last month, Ukraine’s human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets said that a total of 386 children have returned to Ukraine from Russia. Lubinets stresses that “Ukraine will work until it returns everyone to their homeland.”