The Belarusian Red Cross has sparked international outrage after its director told Belarusian state television that the organization has been actively involved in bringing Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied areas to the nation.
Both kyiv and the Belarusian opposition have criticized the transfer of children, calling them illegal deportations. There have also been calls for war crimes charges to be brought against Belarus’ authoritarian president, similar to the charges against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The actions of the Belarusian Red Cross drew criticism from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Minsk has been Moscow’s closest ally since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, and Minsk President Alexander Lukashenko has allowed the Kremlin to use its territory to send soldiers and weapons to Ukraine. Lukashenko has also welcomed the Russian military presence in Belarus and the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons.
Belarusian opposition figures have accused Lukashenko of facilitating the forced transfer of Ukrainian children to Belarus, accusations Minsk angrily denies.
A report aired on Wednesday by state television channel Belarus 1 showed Dzmitry Shautsou, director of the Belarusian Red Cross, visiting the Ukrainian city of Lisychansk in the Russian-controlled Luhansk region.
In the images, he claims that the organization was actively involved in the transfer of Ukrainian children to Belarus for the purposes of “improving health”. “The Belarusian Red Cross has taken – and is taking and will take – an active part in it,” Shautsou said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged the International Criminal Court to “issue an arrest warrant” against Shautsou, stating that he “has publicly confessed to the crime of illegal deportation of children from the occupied areas of Ukraine.”
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which groups 191 national organisations, stated that it had contacted the Belarusian Red Cross to express its “grave concern” and advise it to “end any similar activity in the future”.
Last month, Belarusian opposition activist Pavel Latushka stated that he had provided the ICC with material allegedly detailing the forcible transfer of 2,100 Ukrainian children from at least 15 Russian-occupied Ukrainian cities to Belarus with Lukashenko’s approval.
In May, the Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office announced an investigation into the forcible transfers.
The Belarusian authorities have confirmed having taken in more than 1,000 children, between the ages of 6 and 15, from the areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia for health reasons. The first group of 350 children arrived in April, authorities said, without elaborating.
Jamey Keaten contributed to this report from Geneva.