KORTELISY, Ukraine – In a heartwarming turn of events, a brave Ukrainian teenager has made his triumphant return to his homeland after being taken to Russia from the occupied city of Mariupol during the war earlier this year.
Bohdan Yermokhin, who celebrated his 18th birthday on Sunday, recently reached out to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for assistance in reuniting him with his home country. After an unsuccessful attempt to return to Ukraine via Belarus, Yermokhin found himself caught in a web of uncertainty. However, his determination and the support he received finally led him back to his homeland.
“I always believed that one day I would be back in Ukraine. Today is that day,” Yermokhin shared with Reuters. Overwhelmed with emotions, he expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to contribute to his country. “Ukraine needs me,” he stated firmly.
President Zelenskiy, in his nightly video address, extended his heartfelt welcome to Yermokhin. He acknowledged the collective efforts made to secure his safe return, mentioning the assistance provided by Ukrainian officials, international organizations, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the authorities in Qatar who played crucial roles in the mediation process.
The return of Yermokhin shines a light on a broader issue. Ukraine claims that approximately 20,000 children have been illegally transferred to Russia since the invasion on February 24, 2022, and some have even been put up for adoption. These actions are deemed by Ukraine as war crimes, although Russia denies any allegations, asserting that it was protecting children in a war zone.
Yermokhin, originally an orphan from Mariupol, found himself residing in a foster family near Moscow soon after the city fell under the control of Russian forces during the early stages of the war. It is a testament to his resilience that he has managed to overcome the challenges he faced and return home.
On Sunday, witnesses in the Ukrainian village of Kortelisy, near the Belarusian border, observed Yermokhin being driven into Ukraine in a van. When asked if he was glad to be back, he responded with an affirmative “yes.”
Andriy Yermak, head of the president’s office, shared the news of Yermokhin’s safe return on the Telegram messenger platform. “We maintained constant contact with Bohdan, and I am pleased to report that he is now in Ukraine, reunited with his cousin,” Yermak declared.
The devoted efforts of organizations such as the Dutch NGO Orphans Feeding Foundation, in collaboration with Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman and the president’s office, have played an essential role in facilitating the return of children, including Yermokhin, who were unjustly deported to Russia.
Yermokhin’s lawyer, Kateryna Bobrovska, revealed that her client had been notified to report to a draft office near Moscow in the coming month. There, he could face conscription into the Russian army.-