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Russia's children rights commissioner intends to appeal to UN over Ukraine

May 19, 2014, 16:14 UTC+3 19 19/5
"The problem is that there are many such citizens, but they cannot leave Ukraine," an official says
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Russian children rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov

Russian children rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov

© ITAR-TASS/Yuri Mashkov

BELGOROD, May 19./ITAR-TASS/.The operation to take a child from Sloviansk, eastern Ukraine, had taken a week, Russian children rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov said on Monday, adding details of the operation were kept secret until the last moment.

"When the father of eleven-year-old Anna Vasilenko asked us to help, he said he was ready for any actions, even to illegally enter the country. However, we persuaded him not to do it. Anna's father, though formerly, but was a serviceman. Officially, he may not cross the border, may not enter Ukraine," Astakhov told reporters, noting the operation to return the girl was planned for several days.

The most safe way was chosen to take the child out. For two days the family went through other regions. On the way, the diplomatic car crossed four checkpoints, he said. He told reporters that the family hid in a cellar for the past six weeks. Only the grandfather and the uncle went out and brought food for the relatives. Thanks to the Russian Foreign Ministry and the consulate, Anna and her female relatives with all the needed documents returned to Russia officially and legally.

"The problem is that there are many such citizens, but they cannot leave Ukraine. The country in 1949 signed a whole package of Geneva conventions, but does not comply with them at present. They do not allow leaving and do not assist in it. There is such a convention provision children separated from parents must be returned," Astakhov notes. "We have been told that people are threatened if they leave, their property will be seized, and their home will be burned up."

Astakhov said he intended to appeal to the United Nations and the OSCE, since the convention for protection of civilians is not obeyed in Ukraine.

"We had a similar situation only in Syria. However, due to carelessness and information revelation, a father took a girl away to a third country. We feared similar developments may happen this time," Astakhov said.

As was earlier reported, eleven-year-old Anna Vasilenko, stranded since February in the besieged Ukrainian city of Sloviansk, has been returned to her native Russia at a border checkpoint. The girl went home thanks to intervention by Russian presidential commissioner for children's rights Pavel Astakhov and Foreign Ministry diplomats.

Anna walked to freedom after a mission to defeat Ukrainian authorities' refusal to help repatriate the girl from her aunt's home in Sloviansk to her parents in Belgorod, western Russia.

Ombudsman Astakhov took the initiative on the parents' appeal, leading an operation kept secret until Anna crossed the Belgorod region's Nekhoteyevka checkpoint.

Slovyansk, a town in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, remains under attack from Ukrainian armed forces, forcing residents to flee to cellars as firing breaks out around them.

"We passed through four checkpoints leaving Slavyansk," the girl told an ITAR-TASS correspondent, recalling days of fear in the city. "Of course, we were scared there. We had to escape into the cellar. I missed my parents but will return to my relatives with pleasure when the situation becomes normal," she said.

Russian authorities are citing Anna's plight as they call on international agencies to demand Ukrainian compliance with humanitarian law. Security is paramount for saving civilian lives, they say. This needs a safety corridor for children, women and the elderly to leave combat areas, says the children's commissioner.

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