Opening the meeting in Kyiv, the president thanked all parties who joined the International Coalition, Ukrinform reports with reference to the head of state's website.
"Forcible deportation is one of the most cynical crimes of this war. Children are not simply "taken out" from the occupied territory of Ukraine. Russia is deliberately trying to destroy any connection of children with Ukraine, with relatives, with relatives. Children are taught lies about Ukraine and this war. Children are given up for illegal adoption - even when they themselves say that they have loved ones here in Ukraine and are trying to restore contact with their relatives," Zelenskyi said.
He added that in Russia they are trying to erase the national identity of small Ukrainians, which is evidence of the genocidal policy of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine.
"The world knows that this Russian crime against Ukrainian children, against our families, is not something random, but the organized work of the state system of Russia – its various links and individuals, starting with Putin and ending with all those who perform criminal orders and destroy lives, in particular those of children," said the President.
The head of state added that the warrants of the International Criminal Court for the arrest of President Vladimir Putin and Russian Children's Ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova are pieces of convincing evidence that the deportation of children will not go unpunished.
At the same time, Zelensky noted that time is of great importance when it comes to the return of Ukrainian children. According to him, it is important that small Ukrainians do not lose their entire childhood abroad, so that the cruelty of Russian state criminals does not break these children and their link with their country and relatives.
"Russia itself declares hundreds of thousands of deported Ukrainian children whom it abducted from Ukraine and is trying to dissolve in its being. And we need the fastest and most energetic action to bring all these children back," he said.
The head of state recalled that one of the points of the Ukrainian peace formula is the return of people from Russian deportation and captivity.
"I urge you to increase our coalition - to increase the chances of every Ukrainian child for life at home, for life in general, to return not in years, but as soon as possible," Zelensky said.
World leaders, representatives of foreign governments and parliaments, international rights defenders, public and cultural figures took part in the first meeting of the International Coalition of Countries for the Return of Ukrainian Children in video conference format and through personal presence.
In particular, the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Souza, stated in a video message that forcible deportation of children is contrary to international humanitarian law and the fundamental rights of children and people. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant and many children's rights organizations have expressed concern about this extremely important topic, he recalled, noting the importance of ensuring that those who committed these crimes are held accountable. That is why Portugal created a center for the prosecution of those who commit crimes of aggression against Ukraine.
He stated that, together with the European Union and other international partners, Portugal confirms its full commitment to support Ukraine.
During a video address, the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausieda, noted that Russia's forcible displacement of Ukrainian children has become one of its most terrible crimes in the war against Ukraine because the Russian regime separates families, destroys strong bonds between parents and children, and violates the sense of personal identity.
Lithuania, together with the entire democratic world, remains in solidarity with Ukraine and demands the immediate return by Russia of all Ukrainian children to their families, noted Gitanas Nauseda.
In a video message, the President of Slovakia, Zuzana Caputova, emphasized that today marks an important step in joint efforts to return Ukrainian children home.
Slovakia is extremely determined to organize this process and expresses disappointment that in the 21st century, thousands of children are being illegally removed from their homes, and the youngest and most vulnerable population is suffering from Russian aggression, she said.
Caputova believes that all perpetrators of crimes against children should be located, identified, and brought to justice.
The head of Ireland’s government, Leo Varadkar, in a video address, noted that today's meeting of the International Coalition for the Return of Children is an extremely important step to remind Russia that all actions bear consequences. He emphasized that his country is committed to helping ensure the safe return of all children and adults who were deported during the war.
Ireland confirms its permanent solidarity with the people and government of Ukraine and strongly condemns the abduction of these children and insists on their release, said the Irish prime minister.
Children should never be used for military and political purposes. That is why all parties must work together with the entire international community to ensure that all children return home, added Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly.
The creation of the International Coalition of Countries for the Return of Ukrainian Children was initiated during a meeting of advisers on national security and foreign policy in Malta within the framework of the implementation of the Peace Formula of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi. The purpose of the first meeting of the coalition is to determine the practical steps of the participating countries to support Ukraine in its mission to return deported and forcibly displaced children home, as well as to involve the coalition countries in the implementation of specific projects and commitments that will ensure the safe repatriation, rehabilitation and integration of affected children.
The Declaration of the Coalition on the Return of Illegally Deported and Forcibly Displaced Ukrainian Children to Ukraine, which is open for joining by governments and international organizations, was presented at the meeting.
According to the declaration, the parties agree to undertake all possible efforts to return to Ukraine children who were illegally deported by the Russian Federation, as well as to support the process of their reunification with their families and placement in family conditions. The Declaration also provides for the provision of all necessary humanitarian, medical, and psychological assistance to children and their families affected by illegal deportation.
In addition, it is expected to support international efforts to hold accountable those who organized the illegal deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children.
As reported, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets, said the deportation of more than 19,500 Ukrainian children by Russian invasion forces had been officially confirmed.
Photo: Ukrainian President’s Office