28th May 2023

Von der Leyen pledges to help return Ukrainian children

  • European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (r) in Ukraine in February with Ukrainian deputy prime minister Olga Stefanyshyna (Photo:
Listen to article

The European Commission and Poland are to hold an international conference to help find some 16,000 Ukrainian children abducted by Russia.

"We aim to put international pressure to make all possible efforts to establish the whereabouts of the children," EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday (23 March).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Von der Leyen at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday (Photo:

"It's a horrible reminder of the darkest times of our history," she said. "It's something especially important to me," she added.

It was "an extraordinary act of barbarity", Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki also said.

"The European Commission realises that Poland can be the best partner in publicising this issue internationally. We have also been asked for this by the Ukrainian side," he added.

Russia has taken some 16,200 Ukrainian children over the past 12 months as part of its campaign of terror, Ukraine says, just 300 of whom made it home so far.

The EU-Polish project will also rely on UN agencies to trace them and try to extract them from Russian adoptive families and foster homes.

The international conference, details of which are not yet public, will be "just the beginning of very, very hard work", von der Leyen said.

The EU was also preparing an 11th round of Russia sanctions, she confirmed.

"The 11th package [of sanctions] will mainly deal with the question of [sanctions] circumvention and how we can go against it," she said.

An EU special envoy was already touring third countries believed to be helping Russia get prohibited technology, she added.

But counter-circumvention aside, Estonia has also said the EU should target more Russian banks and oligarchs.

Finland says more Russian elite family members should be listed, while Lithuania wants to go after Russian nuclear energy firm Rosatom.

Existing EU sanctions already cover Russian officials involved in the child-abduction programme.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague issued a personal arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin last week over the stolen children.

German authorities have said they would arrest Putin if he landed on their territory, prompting former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to issue fresh nuclear threats against Berlin on Thursday.

But von der Leyen, who is a former German defence minister, appeared unfazed by Moscow's sabre-rattling following her EU meeting.

"This is a war crime," she said of Putin's child abductions. "These criminal actions completely justify the arrest warrant issued by the ICC," she said.


How east Europe's social services cope with Ukraine refugees

More than 50 percent of the 300,000 refugees that arrived in the Czech Republic are children, and 80 percent of all adult refugees are women. More is needed for employment for women and access to nurseries for children.


The overlooked 'crimes against children' ICC arrest warrant

An unprecedented component of this announcement has received less attention: the ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Putin's commissioner for children's rights. Lvova-Belova is accused of deporting and unlawful transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia.


How the EU's money for waste went to waste in Lebanon

The EU led support for the waste management crisis in Lebanon, spending around €89m between 2004-2017, with at least €30m spent on 16 solid-waste management facilities. However, it failed to deliver.

Latest News

  1. How the EU's money for waste went to waste in Lebanon
  2. EU criminal complicity in Libya needs recognition, says expert
  3. Europe's missing mails
  4. MEPs to urge block on Hungary taking EU presidency in 2024
  5. PFAS 'forever chemicals' cost society €16 trillion a year
  6. EU will 'react as appropriate' to Russian nukes in Belarus
  7. The EU needs to foster tech — not just regulate it
  8. EU: national energy price-spike measures should end this year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us