At least 20,000 children were unlawfully taken to Russia since the start of Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
Joint mediation by Qatar and the United Nations has led to the release of orphaned Ukrainian teenager, Bohdan Yermokhin, from Mariupol after being taken to Russia during the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Sunday.
In his nightly video address on social media, Zelenskyy confirmed the teenager was captured by Russian troops last year during the height of the war on Ukraine.
“I am grateful to the entire team working on the return of Ukrainian children […] I am especially grateful for Qatar for its effective mediation and assistance,” Zelenskyy said without mentioning further details on Yermokhin’s detainment and the Gulf mediation process.
Reuters had separately reported on Monday that Yermokhin’s return to Ukraine coincided with his 18th birthday.
“I believed I would be in Ukraine, but not on this day,” Yermokhin told Reuters after crossing into Ukraine, describing his release as “a very pleasant gift”.
At least 20,000 children were illegally taken to Russia since the start of Moscow’s war on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, some which had been put up for adoption, Reuters reported.
On October 16, Qatar secured the repatriation of four Ukrainian children from Russia following request from Ukraine, showcasing the Gulf mediator’s powerful diplomatic role.
At the time, Qatar took charge of the children’s accommodation at its embassy in Moscow and ensured their secure transfer to Ukraine.
“This mediation effort further underscores Qatar’s enduring commitment to promoting peace, stability, and security both regionally and internationally. Qatar remains fully prepared to play a constructive role in addressing crises and conflicts around the world today,” read a statement by the Gulf state at the time.
Qatar has a notable record in brokering prisoners’ exchanges across the world.
On September 18, Qatar secured a milestone US-Iran prisoner swap between the adversaries following two years of shuttle diplomacy. The historic deal saw the release of five Iranians and five Americans as well as the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian assets overseas.
On a regional level, Doha is now playing a more pivotal role as it works on releasing civilian captives from Hamas in Gaza.
Qatar had mediated the release of four captives in October before negotiations stalled under the non-stop Israeli bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip.
Hamas had captured around 242 captives, including members of the Israeli occupation forces (IOF), during the October 7 operation, known as ‘Al Aqsa Flood’.
At the time, the Al-Qassam Brigades—Hamas’ armed wing—infiltrated occupied territories for the first time through air, land and sea.
Balanced foreign policy
The Gulf state has maintained a balanced foreign policy since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine, communicating with both sides while repeatedly calling for the need for dialogue to end the conflict.
In July, Doha pledged $100 million in aid to Kyiv during a meeting between Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Zelenskyy.
Sheikh Mohammed’s visit to Ukraine came a month after a stopover in Moscow on June 22, where he met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, where the former called for respecting Ukraine’s territorial dignity and independence, as well as the UN Charter.
In March last year, Qatar was among 141 countries who voted on a UN resolution demanding Russia’s “immediate and complete” withdrawal from Ukraine.
The seasoned Gulf mediator had previously expressed its openness to facilitate dialogue between rivals Russia and Ukraine “if asked” by its international partners, a top diplomat from the Gulf state told Newsweek on October 3.
The remarks were made during an interview with Qatar’s Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulaziz bin Saleh Al Khulaifi, who tapped into the country’s record of successful global mediations.
“If asked to mediate in the Ukraine conflict, we would of course be ready to work towards facilitating dialogue and achieving peace in Europe,” Al Khulaifi told the American magazine, noting such mediation is “desperately needed.”
The war in Ukraine has only intensified more than a year on, killing more than 28,350 civilians while internally displacing 3.7 million people, per figures shared by a UN situation report on November 16.
“The war in Ukraine continues to severely impact people’s lives, damage critical civilian infrastructure and livelihoods, and trigger mandatory evacuations of civilians from front-line communities and driving high humanitarian needs,” the UN said.