Joly announces child repatriation initiative during surprise visit to Ukraine

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Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Friday ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, where she announced a new initiative to combat the forced deportation of children by the Russian army.

Estimates of the number of children kidnapped by Russia since its full-scale invasion began in 2022 are in the thousands.

“Children cannot be used as pawns in war. In their faces we see our humanity and Canada is proud to lead efforts alongside Ukraine to ensure their return to Ukraine,” Joly said in a press release announcing his trip.

Speaking to reporters in Ukraine, Joly said Canada would work to develop a consular file for each missing child, using its diplomatic network around the world to raise awareness of their plight and efforts to return them to Ukraine.

“We will work with countries that have direct relations with Russia to ensure that these children return home,” Joly said. “Every child brought back to their family is a victory in itself.”

As part of this initiative, Canada offered “technical expertise and resources” to assist in the repatriation of Ukrainian children, the press release said.

Last March, the International Penal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s children’s commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for illegal expulsion and transfer of children.

The Canadian government recently announced that it would contribute Another $35 million in military equipment in Ukraine.

February 24 will mark the second anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“Canada is one of our closest friends”

During his trip, Joly also plans to meet with war-affected Ukrainians, including children, as well as organizations that support victims of sexual and gender-based violence and war-related trauma.

Canada and its allies have pledged to support Ukraine “as long as it takes,” particularly to contain the risk of Russian aggression after the conflict eventually ends.

Yet public support for Ukraine has declined in countries like the United States, amid persistent inflation and war in the Middle East.

Canada still has not signed a formal bilateral security commitment for Ukraine, and negotiations have continued for months over how much Ottawa will commit to helping secure the country.

His Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, welcomed Ottawa’s support, saying through an interpreter that “Canada is one of our closest friends,” in part because it raises issues during G7 meetings.

He said negotiations on a security engagement were going well and were not clouded by diplomatic niceties.

“We can discuss things, in essence, in a very sincere and open way,” he said.

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