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Bogdan Ermokhin with his cousin, November 19, 2023

A deported teen finds his way home Earlier this month, the Russian army sent him an enlistment summons. Now Bogdan Ermokhin is back in Ukraine and with family.

Source: Meduza
Bogdan Ermokhin with his cousin, November 19, 2023
Bogdan Ermokhin with his cousin, November 19, 2023
Thomas Peter / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Bogdan Ermokhin has returned to Ukraine after being deported to Russia from occupied Mariupol. Earlier this year, following Ermokhin’s first attempt to get back to his homeland, Russian officials accused enemies of trying to “lure” the teenager away. After staging a story for the press wherein Ermokhin had resolved to stay in Russia, the young man appealed directly to President Volodymyr Zelensky, setting in motion negotiations that ultimately delivered Ermokhin to Ukraine in time for his 18th birthday. Meduza revisits his journey home.

Bogdan Ermokhin, the orphan who was deported to Russia from occupied Mariupol and later served a Russian military enlistment summons, has returned to Ukraine just in time to celebrate adulthood. Ukrainian Children’s Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lubinets announced the homecoming on November 19, Ermokhin’s 18th birthday.

According to Lubinets, Ermokhin returned to Ukraine following negotiations with Russian officials, mediated by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, Qatar, and the embassies of Ukraine and Belarus. In his Sunday evening address to the public, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked everyone involved in the process “and everyone whose compassion and excellence help return to Ukraine the children who were abducted from occupied territory.” 

Maria Lvova-Belova, Lubinets’s Russian counterpart, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for the war crime of unlawfully deporting children from occupied Ukraine to Russia. She said on Sunday that Ermokhin returned to Ukraine through Belarus after meeting his cousin in Minsk on November 18. “The teenager himself wanted to be reunited with his relative,” Lvova-Belova wrote on her Telegram channel.

Before Russia’s invasion, Bogdan Ermokhin lived in Mariupol. He lost his parents at an early age. After staying with a foster family for several years, he enrolled at a local metallurgical school, whose director became his legal guardian. According to Commissioner Lvova-Belova, Ermokhin was among the children “found in the basements of Mariupol” after Russian troops seized the city. Occupation officials moved him to Donetsk and then to a town outside Moscow, where he was placed in the care of a new foster family.

The public might never have learned about Ermokhin were it not for Commissioner Lvova-Belova, who revealed to the pro-Kremlin media in the spring of 2023 that Russia’s enemies had tried and failed to “lure” the teenager to Ukraine through “manipulation and threats.” Following this escape attempt, Ermokhin mysteriously did not comment to the press, but Lvova-Belova declared in August that he’d met with members of her office and confirmed in writing that he didn’t intend to return to his homeland before reaching adulthood. (Ekaterina Bobrovskaya, a lawyer who says she represents Ermokhin in Ukraine, maintains that her client signed this statement under duress.)

In early November, however, Lvova-Belova acknowledged that Ermokhin had again expressed the desire to go back to Ukraine. Around the same time, he published a video appeal to President Zelensky requesting the Ukrainian president’s help.

Though he never renounced his Ukrainian citizenship, Bogdan Ermokhin received Russian citizenship in October 2022. He was reportedly summoned to a local military enlistment office outside Moscow a year later. According to Children’s Rights Commissioner Lvova-Belova, the letter sent to Ermokhin was merely the standard summons all men receive at 18 to verify their personal records in Russia’s military registry. “Drafting him into the army now is out of the question,” Lvova-Belova stressed.

Since invading eastern Ukrainian in 2022, occupation forces have evacuated thousands of children and adolescents from territories now claimed by Moscow, relocating the minors to Russia. Ukraine, the West, and several international organizations consider this to constitute illegal deportations and violations of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova for breaching the tribunal’s founding treaty (though Russia is not a member state of the agreement). The Kremlin says it removed the children from the Ukrainian territories to protect them against harm amid the ongoing war. Moscow also claims that it does not impede families’ efforts to reunite with children evacuated to Russia.

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