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Russia, Ukraine to exchange displaced children in Qatar-brokered deal

Russia, Ukraine to exchange displaced children in Qatar-brokered deal

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Zelensky said that 16 Ukrainian children had been reunited with their families.

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KYIV (AFP) - Russia and Ukraine have agreed in a Qatari-brokered deal to exchange almost 50 children displaced by Moscow's invasion, the Kremlin's children's rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova announced in Doha Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that 16 Ukrainian children previously "deported to Russia" had been reunited with their families.

"A group of 16 Ukrainian children ... have been released and reunited with their families" in Qatar, Zelensky said, not addressing Russia's claim that 48 children were involved in an exchange, including 19 that would go to Russia.

Moscow has been accused of forcibly taking Ukrainian children into Russian territory during its full-scale offensive, with Lvova-Belova wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges related to those allegations.

"For the first time in a face-to-face format, we held talks with the Ukrainian side. Twenty-nine children are due to go to Ukraine and 19 to Russia," Lvova-Belova announced.

She gave no details on why the children were in Russian hands or where they had come from.

Ukraine believes Russia has illegally taken more than 19,000 of its children since the start of the 2022 invasion, of which fewer than 400 have been returned.

Moscow denies that charge, saying that it has transferred children for their safety away from fighting zones.

The fate of the children has been highly sensitive in Ukraine since the war began two years ago.

Some of the children's parents were killed, while others were separated from carers by the fast-moving front lines at the start of the invasion.

Some were living in Ukrainian orphanages in areas Russia then occupied.

Ukraine says Moscow's forces illegally deported them to Russia, and accuses the Russian authorities of trying to wipe out their Ukrainian identity.

Teenagers that returned to Ukraine have said they were subjected to Russian patriotic education and made to praise the Russian army.