A charity in Ukraine said it reunited 31 children with their parents on Saturday after a long operation to take them back from Russia.
The children were located by the Save Ukraine charity and taken by bus from Russian-controlled territory through Belarus and back to Ukraine.
"Today we are welcoming home 31 more children who have been illegally taken by Russians from occupied territories," Mykola Kuleba, head of the charity, wrote on social media.
Children recall being 'treated like animals'
One 13-year-old girl, Dasha, said she and her twin sister had agreed to leave the Russian-occupied city of Kherson last year to escape the war and to go a holiday camp in Crimea.
But once they arrived in Crimea, they were told they would be staying longer.
"They said we will be adopted, that we will get guardians," Dasha told the Reuters news agency. "When they first told us we will stay longer we all started crying."
Another child, Vitaly, said they were "treated like animals" and told their parents no longer wanted them.
On Saturday, the head of the charity thanked the "heroic" mothers who made the journey to Russia to bring their children home.
"It was heartbreaking to look at children left behind who were crying behind the fence," said Dasha's mother.
Thousands of children deported
Ukrainian authorities estimate more than 16,000 children have been deported to Russia since the invasion launched on February 24, 2022.
Last month, the International Criminal Court announced an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and children's rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, accusing them of war crimes for their roles in unlawfully deporting children.
Russia has denied the war crimes allegations. Lvova-Belova claimed earlier this week that her commission acted on humanitarian grounds to protect children from the horrors of war.
zc/msh (Reuters, AFP)