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Joly pays surprise visit to Kyiv. Canada and Ukraine launch initiative to return abducted children

Feb 9, 2024 | News, Featured

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly during her official visit to Kyiv on Feb. 2. (Volodymyr Zelenskyy/X)

NP-UN National Affairs Desk.

Canada and Ukraine have launched a global initiative to return children unlawfully seized by Russia.

Entitled the International Coalition for the Return of Ukrainian Children, the joint Canada-Ukraine initiative aims to raise awareness of the issue and co-ordinate advocacy campaigns, with the hope other countries will follow suit.

“Canada will use its diplomatic network around the world to reach out, as if these were Canadian children,” Joly said. Diplomats will discuss it with a wide variety of countries, including Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Qatar, said Joly.

“We know this is no simple task, and it will require a co-ordinated effort from states in every corner of the world. Children can not be used as pawns in war. In their faces, we see our humanity and Canada is proud to lead the effort alongside Ukraine to ensure their return home to Ukraine,” added Joly, who met with families and children who have been impacted by the war as well as local organizations supporting victims of conflict-related violence.

Ottawa has said it would offer any technical expertise Ukraine needs to help get children returned. Fewer than 400 have made it back from Russia so far. Canada has already sanctioned over 50 individuals and more than 10 entities who have been involved in the deportation of Ukrainian children and who are therefore violating their human rights.

“These children are being robbed of their families, of the love and security that every child needs from their loved ones,” Joly said.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin nearly a year ago for allegedly forcing children in eastern Ukraine to be adopted into Russian families, while trying to strip them of any Ukrainian identity.

The United Nations has documented instances of Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups committing grave violations against children, who have been unlawfully detained, forcibly transferred and illegally deported.

During her visit, Joly also met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba.

“We discussed continued support for Ukraine, joint steps to implement the Peace Formula, the development of a system of security commitments for Ukraine, and the work of the International coalition for the return of Ukrainian children,” Zelenskyy said on the social media platform X.

“I am grateful to Canada for its unwavering support and trust in Ukraine and Ukrainians.”

Kuleba praised Ottawa’s support, saying through an interpreter that “Canada is one of our closest friends,” in part because it raises Ukraine’s issues at G7 meetings.

He said negotiations for a security commitment are going well, and are not clouded by diplomatic niceties. “We can discuss things, in essence, quite sincerely and openly,” he said.

Ukraine is enthusiastic about steps to have foreign countries seize assets owned by affiliates of the Russian state, which they would then forfeit to help finance Ukraine’s rebuilding effort.

Canada has promoted such a move for well over a year, though it hasn’t followed through on actually forfeiting property.

It’s been more than a year since Ottawa froze a US$26-million bank account held by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and seized a massive airplane last June that sits on the tarmac in Toronto.

Joly did not say why the assets have not yet been forfeited, although she alluded to a need for the legal process to play out.

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