Live Updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine

In this still from a video by humanitarian organization Save Ukraine, children return to Ukraine months after they were taken illegally to Russia. (Save Ukraine)

Thirty-one children are back in Ukraine after they were taken illegally to Russia, according to Save Ukraine, a Kyiv-based humanitarian organization.

The children — pulling suitcases and bags of belongings, with some clutching stuffed animals — accompanied by family members, were embraced by volunteers after crossing the border into Ukraine by foot. They then boarded a coach to continue their journey.

“Children abducted by Russians from Kherson and Kharkiv regions have finally crossed the border with their families and are now safe,” Mykola Kuleba, the founder of Save Ukraine, said in a Telegram post.

“Both the children and their parents have psychological and physical recovery ahead of them. And we will continue to take care of them until the families are back in their homes,” Kuleba said.  

Save Ukraine’s Olha Yerokhina told CNN this was the fifth rescue mission arranged by the organization.

A group of 13 mothers had left Ukraine a little over a week ago, many of them granted power of attorney which allowed them to collect other parents’ children in addition to their own, she said. 

The party crossed into Poland before traveling through Belarus, Russia and finally entering Russian-occupied Crimea, where they were reunited with 24 of the children. The other seven children were collected in Voronezh, Rostov and Belgorod, all inside Russia, she said.

Yerokhina said facilitating the rescue missions was difficult because Save Ukraine has no official contact with anybody in Russia. Instead, the organization received crucial help from volunteers in different locations.

Remember: Allegations of widespread forced deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia form the basis of war crimes charges brought against Russian President Vladimir Putin and a senior official, Maria Lvova-Belova, by the International Criminal Court last month.

Ukraine has said there are more than 16,000 such cases under investigation.

Russia has denied it is doing anything illegal, saying it is bringing Ukrainian children to safety. 

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