Fact Check: NO Proof 'Dozens Of Ukrainians' Asked Russia To Help Return Ukrainian Refugee Children From European Union

Fact Check

  • by: Evgenia Prodaeva
Fact Check: NO Proof 'Dozens Of Ukrainians' Asked Russia To Help Return Ukrainian Refugee Children From European Union Missing Proof

Did "dozens of Ukrainians" apply to Russia's mission to the United Nations for help getting their children back from welfare agencies in the European Union? No, that's not true: Parents of such children, Russian officials and European Union governments have not said anything that substantiates this claim. The office of Ukraine's Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, which handles requests for the restoration of Ukrainian citizens' parental rights abroad, told Lead Stories that it had no information about Ukrainian refugees asking Russia for help with this matter. Indeed, one of the mothers featured in a presentation by the Russian envoy to the United Nations about Ukrainian refugee children has condemned the Russian mission for using her story "not to help us, but to brighten [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's reputation."

The claim that "dozens of Ukrainians" turned to Russia's United Nations (UN) mission for help in reclaiming their children from European Union (EU) welfare agencies appeared in a post on Facebook (archived here) on October 29, 2023. It stated:

Dozens of Ukrainians asked Russia to help return children taken to the EU.

Dozens of Ukrainian families living in Western countries have contacted the Russian Permanent Mission to the UN with a request to help them return children taken away by the services of these states, said Grigory Lukyantsev, director of the department for humanitarian cooperation and human rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Channel One .

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:


(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Jan 19 19:59:56 2024 UTC)

Moscow's message

The post referred to a statement made by Grigory Lukyantsev, director of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' department for humanitarian coordination and human rights. On October 29, 2023, the state-run Russian news agency TASS (archived here) quoted Lukyantsev's on-air remarks to Russia's state-run, national broadcaster Channel One. Lukyantsev said (all translations from Russian to English by Lead Stories staff):

Several dozen Ukrainian mothers and families have contacted the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in New York since April 2023, with a request for assistance in the return of their children.

The November 3, 2023, episode of Channel One's "A Person and the Law" series (archived here) contained Lukyantsev's "exclusive interview" (starts at the 9:35 mark) about these supposed appeals and the Russian UN mission's supposed response.

Referring to Ukrainian refugee parents, Lukyantsev commented that "We try to figure out things in each case." But he did not elaborate on how the Russian foreign ministry does so. He did not provide examples of the appeals, did not say what kind of assistance Ukrainian refugees expected from Russia and gave no names or other essential details to back up his claim.


(Source: 1tv.ru screenshot taken on Fri Dec 22, 16:33:17 2023 UTC)

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, made a similar statement in a November 10, 2023, speech (archived here) to a UN Security Council meeting, organized by the Russian Federation, that was called "Combating [the] forced separation and illegal exploitation of children." According to Russia's UN mission website, Nebenzya said:

We have received numerous appeals about flagrant violations [of law] against Ukrainian refugees' children in various European countries. These were primarily cases where children were separated from their parents or when all trace of orphans transferred from Ukraine was lost in Europe. We could not remain indifferent to this situation, and have tried to speak out about the situation of these migrants and refugees, who requested this of us.

Nebenzya did not share the names or locations of these children and provided no examples of the parents' supposed "numerous appeals."

Lead Stories emailed Russia's Permanent Mission to the United Nations and requested that they disclose the names of these "[s]everal dozen" Ukrainian refugees who have requested the mission's help to reclaim custody of their children and that the mission elaborate about these cases. We will update this fact check if a relevant comment is received.

In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and Russia's children's rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for the illegal deportation and transfer of children to Russia from Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine. Moscow, which does not recognize the ICC, termed the decision "outrageous and unacceptable." Russian officials and state-controlled media outlets have since regularly emphasized the Putin administration's supposed concern about Ukrainian refugee children.

In "A Person and the Law," Russian Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Anna Kuznetsova, co-chair of Russia's Parliamentary Commission for the Investigation of the Kyiv Regime's Criminal Actions Toward Children, citing "official" information, claimed (at the 9:54 mark), that "our services" are "trying to help 240" Ukrainian children, including 75 in Poland. The origin of these numbers is unclear.

However, the office of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, which tracks reports of Ukrainian refugees losing custody of their children abroad, told Lead Stories that it has no information that Russia has intervened to restore refugee children in the EU to their Ukrainian parents. In a December 27, 2023, e-mail, the acting director of the Commissioner's press office, Tetyana Shelest, wrote (translated from Ukrainian to English by Lead Stories staff):

Regarding the cases of children whose parents may have sought assistance from Russian diplomats, in particular, the Russian mission to the UN, we inform you that the Secretariat of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights has not received this information.

Ukraine's representative for the rights of children, family, youth and sports, Iryna Suslova, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Ukrainian Service in June 2023 that 240 children had been taken from the families of Ukrainian refugees in European countries. She objected that Ukraine has not done enough to clarify EU law for refugees, but she did not say that Russia's UN mission or government is working to return these children. Rather, she said that her office works with Ukrainian consuls and "international partners to resolve this situation."

No proof from parents

None of the apparent Ukrainian mothers featured in an episode of Channel One's "A Person and the Law" say they contacted Russia's mission to the United Nations or other Russian diplomats for assistance in regaining custody of their children from European or European Union countries. A Google search in Russian for the names of these women did not show any relevant results (Oskana Buratevych, Veronika Kalashnikova, Yelena Kovalyova, Alina Komissarenko, Alena Ladkova, Yulia Panasenko and Emiliya Zhurba). Most of the video clips of Ukrainian mothers featured on "A Person and the Law" had appeared in previous Russian-government presentations or state-run media broadcasts about Ukrainian refugee children.

Although many state-run or aligned Russian media outlets reported about Lukyantsev's description of Russia's supposed role in reclaiming these children from EU welfare agencies, the news coverage did not provide proof of his claim.

In fact, nearly seven months before "A Person and the Law's" broadcast, one of the Ukrainian mothers featured in a video clip in the episode, Alina Komissarenko, had denounced Nebenzya for including in a UN speech, without her permission, her video story about Portugal taking custody of her children. In an April 6, 2023, YouTube short (archived here), she charged that Nebenzya had cited her case "not to help us, but to brighten Putin's reputation."

Komissarenko said:

I gave no permission for my name to come out of their mouths, the aggressor country, the murderers.

Komissarenko added that she and her children had gone to Portugal because "the war criminal Putin decided to bomb my city and my country" -- public comments unlikely for someone who expected Russian officials' help.


(Source: youtube.com screenshot taken on Fri Dec 22, 17:43:26 2023 UTC)

No response to Moscow's hashtag campaign

In April 2023, a month after the ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova, the Russian authorities launched the social media campaign #EuropeStealsChildren. They invited Ukrainian mothers trying to reclaim custody of their children in the EU to tell their stories on social media or via email.

At the time of writing, however, Lead Stories could find no refugee's story on X (formerly known as Twitter), Facebook, TikTok or Instagram with the hashtag #EuropeStealsChildren that detailed an actual request for Russia's UN mission to recover a Ukrainian child or children from an EU welfare agency.


(Source: Facebook.com screenshot taken on Fri Dec 22 20:20:55 2023 UTC)

Only Russia's first deputy representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyansky, has recounted these stories on X, but he has provided no proof that any of the named Ukrainian mothers contacted the Russian UN mission:


(Source: Twitter.com screenshot taken on Fri Dec 22, 18:05:30 2023 UTC)

A Google search revealed no information in Russian or in Ukrainian about the couple mentioned in this post, the Nikolskyys, except for numerous Russian media articles referencing Poliansky.

In an April 28, 2023, Telegram post Polyansky said that "we" -- presumably, Russia's UN mission or foreign ministry -- had published appeals from Ukrainians Emilia Zhurba, Tamara Zandofs, Oksana Buratevych and Yulia Panasenko about Finland, Germany and Spain supposedly taking their children. Lead Stories could not locate these appeals online.

In a livestream, Russian-language interview on YouTube with Ukrainian journalist Zhan Novoseltsev on January 4, 2024, one of these women, Tamara Zandofs, said she had contacted the Ukrainian consul in Germany and German police about welfare officials taking her three children, but she said nothing about asking Russian diplomatic missions to help her. here.

Lead Stories reported in July 2023 that Russia has exaggerated the number of Ukrainian refugees in Germany whose children were taken by welfare officials.

Lead Stories contacted the European Union's mission to the UN about the claim that Moscow is trying to recover Ukrainian refugee children from EU welfare agencies. We also contacted the UN missions and foreign ministries of Germany and Poland, and the foreign ministries of Finland, Italy, Portugal and Spain -- all countries mentioned in Moscow's allegations about this matter.

In response, the German foreign ministry sent Lead Stories a list of their websites and social media outlets; the Italian foreign ministry declined to comment on remarks by "news agencies or third parties." The other missions and ministries did not respond. We will update this fact check accordingly if they do.

Other Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to the war in Ukraine can be found here.

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  Evgenia Prodaeva

Evgenia Prodaeva is a freelance fact-checker based in Kyiv, Ukraine. She is a graduate of Taras Shevchenko National University’s Institute of Journalism. For over a decade, Evgenia has been an editor with media outlets covering freedom of speech, media literacy, media business and journalism-related topics in Ukraine.

Read more about or contact Evgenia Prodaeva

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