Vatican moves to reunite Ukrainian children taken to Russia

Ukranian children

A Vatican plan is underway to reunite Ukrainian children with their families, a senior Vatican official says.

The Ukrainian children were taken to Russia during the war.

The plan

The Holy See’s plan to reunite the children followed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s explicit request for its help, when he met Pope Francis at the Vatican in May. Russia is said to be willing to engage in the process.

The Vatican official discussed the plan last Thursday after the Pope’s peace envoy, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, returned to the Vatican from Washington.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said Zuppi met President Joe Biden last Tuesday, after earlier missions to Kyiv and Moscow.

In Moscow, he had met one of President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy advisers, Yuri Ushakov, and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.

A White House official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed a large part of Biden’s discussion with Zuppi concerned the Vatican effort to reunite Ukrainian children.

Catholic Biden welcomes Vatican plan

Zuppi delivered a letter from Pope Francis to Biden, “emphasising the pope’s sorrow for the suffering caused by the war,” the Vatican says.

The White House official noted Biden, a Catholic, welcomed the Vatican’s peace efforts.

The President and Zuppi discussed “the Holy See’s efforts providing humanitarian aid to address the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine, as well as the Vatican’s advocacy for the return of forcibly deported Ukrainian children.”

During the meeting, Biden assured Zuppi of “full readiness to support initiatives in the humanitarian field, particularly for children and the most fragile people, both to respond to this urgency and to foster pathways to peace.”

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant in late March for Putin and Lvova-Belova. They are accused of abducting children from Ukraine.

Russian officials deny any forced transfers of children. Some Ukrainian children are in foster care, they say.

Now what?

The Vatican’s initiative is not unprecedented.

It organised Russia-Ukraine prisoner swaps by delivering lists of prisoners to be exchanged, though how many prisoners were exchanged is unclear.

However, the Vatican official says Russia has expressed a willingness to engage in a similar “mechanism” or process of exchanging lists involving the return of Ukrainian children.

Lvova-Belova’s meeting with Zuppi in June is significant, the official says.

Whether Russia has put other conditions on the children’s return – including numbers and when the operation might get under way – remains unknown.

Spreading the word

While he was in Washington, Zuppi described the Vatican reunification plan to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission.

Zuppi’s delegation also attended the Senate Prayer Breakfast. During this, “Zuppi had the opportunity to brief the participants on the meetings he had during the various stages of his peace mission,” the Vatican says.


Additional reading

News category: World.

Tags: , , , , ,