On International Children’s Day, Ambassador Neil Holland says that Ukraine’s children are paying the price of Russian aggression.

Neil Holland

Thank you, Mr Chair. Let me start by condemning Russia’s continued large-scale missile and drone attacks against Ukraine. This includes strikes on Kyiv overnight, where a child has reportedly been killed and others injured. Over the past month, civilians have endured almost daily attacks, including 20 night-time air strikes. 1,120 air raid sirens have been recorded across the country in May alone. Thankfully, Ukrainian Air Defence continues to intercept most of Russia’s attacks. However, this does not alter the reality for Ukrainian families, who are forced to take nightly shelter in bunkers, and go to bed not knowing whether they will even wake up the next day.

Today is the International Day of the Protection of Children. So I will focus my statement on the Ukrainian children who continue to suffer from Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion.

Since last February, Russia has unleashed a ruthless bombardment of missile attacks which have damaged and destroyed schools, hospitals and residential buildings. The United Nations Children’s Fund reports that Russia’s unrelenting brutality has claimed the lives of over 500 children. Just last week, Russia’s attack on a clinic in Dnipro killed four people and injured 32. This included two children under seven years old.

The children living in temporarily Russian controlled territories also continue to suffer under repressive regimes. I want to highlight the cases of two teenagers, Tihran Ohannisian and Mykyta Khanhanov, in particular. Last week in Berdiansk, they were charged by the Russian Federation with allegedly planning to ‘sabotage’ the Melitopol Railway. Aged just 16 and 17 years old, these boys have faced about eight months of persecution. On 30 September 2022, Russian authorities forcefully took Tihran from his home. For five days, Tihran was interrogated brutally. He was beaten and tortured with electric shocks. All to induce a confession.  For five days, his family did now know where he was.

Mykyta was subjected to similar mistreatment. Their lawyers, who the Russian authorities appointed to represent the boys, did not provide legal support to the boys. Last Wednesday, Tihran and Mykyta were ‘charged’ under Article 281 of the Russian Criminal Code. Both face between 10 to 20 years in prison. The UK calls on Russia to cease its persecution of Ukrainian children, including Tihran and Mykyta.

Mr Chair, we also continue to receive disturbing reports of the forced deportation of Ukrainian children by the Russian authorities. As the most recent Moscow Mechanism Report makes clear, these children are exposed to the deep trauma of being separated from their parents. They suffer violations and abuses of their rights, including being forced to relinquish their Ukrainian identity and participate in Russia-centric education. Russia’s forced deportation and attempted indoctrination of Ukrainian children is a despicable and systematic attempt to erase Ukraine’s future.

Each day that Russia chooses to press on with its illegal and unprovoked invasion, Ukrainian children suffer. Children who have their whole lives ahead of them. Children whose futures the Russian authorities seem determined to take away. The UK will continue to support Ukraine to ensure those responsible will face justice.

Thank you, Mr Chair.

Published 1 June 2023