“It’s like a dream,” said Kateryna Bobrovskaya, Bohdan Yermokhin’s lawyer. After a year and a half in Russia, the orphaned teenager had a final 24-hour wait to come home – the time between his flight from Moscow and his arrival, on Sunday, November 19, at the Domanove checkpoint on the border between Belarus and Ukraine.
The rescue of the Ukrainian boy, who was transported to Russia from Mariupol by the Russian army in May 2022, has been a rollercoaster, beset with so many setbacks that few expected a happy outcome. Even Bobrovskaya’s faith falsified, but she never gave up.
Bohdan – whose name was spelled “Bogdan Ermokhin” on the Russian civil registry – is one of thousands of Ukrainian children who disappeared into Russia from orphanages, schools and foster homes, most of whom are still being sought by Kyiv. He was part of a group dubbed the “Mariupol 31” who were transferred from an orphanage in the city captured by the Russian army to the Polyani center in the Moscow region, under the direct supervision of the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova- Belova. She herself adopted one of the group, Filip Golovnya.
The “Mariupol 31” incident helped establish the indictments issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague against Russian president Vladimir Putin and Lvova-Belova, suspected of war crimes for having designed and implemented a policy of forcibly transporting and Russifying Ukrainian children , under the guise of humanitarian evacuations. Kyiv estimates that at least 20,000 Ukrainian children have been transported in this manner.
Bohdan never gave up on the idea of returning to Ukraine. He tried twice to escape from Russia, without success. Bobrovskaya became his lawyer on March 15, thanks to another transported teenager, a friend of Bohdan’s known by the pseudonym “Roman” who managed to return to Ukraine. Bobrovskaya fought, almost single-handedly, for eight months, to get Bohdan home too, and messaged the teenager every night. She obtained official documents making her cousin Valeria his legal guardian.
His return was a race against time – he turned 18 on November 19, and had already received a call-up from the Russian army’s military recruitment office. In the last few weeks, three factors finally broke the deadlock. Firstly, the teenager managed to secure a meeting with the Human Rights Commissioner of the Russian Federation, Tatiana Moskalkova, and get her to call his cousin and promise that he would return to his country.
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