'South Africa now taking a more helpful stance on Ukraine invasion': Ukraine delegation
A delegation from Ukraine visited South Africa this week to “strengthen the bond between the two countries” and raise awareness about Ukrainian children “unlawfully deported” to Russia.
The visit follows sustained international criticism of South Africa's non-aligned stance in the conflict.
Two members of the delegation, professor of comparative politics at Mohyla Academy in Kyiv Dr Olexiy Haran and human rights and legal expert Kateryna Rashevska, said they were cautiously optimistic about the results of their visit.
“I was with the previous delegation in April. At the time, we were a little frustrated with the South African position. But now we see things are moving again,” Haran said.
“There was a meeting between [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and [President Cyril] Ramaphosa in New York, and there were calls between them.
“What is important is the Copenhagen process of meetings between national security advisers and presidents. These engagements were held in places like Copenhagen and Malta, where a Ukraine peace formula was discussed. About 60 countries participated, and South Africa was one of them.
“It is very encouraging to see your country's change in position — from abstaining at a UN Security Council vote to actively participating in searching for a road to peace.”
The delegation met with a mix of civil society representatives, academics and government figures.
“The meetings went beyond our expectations because there was a definite emotional component connected to our children who were deported to the Russian Federation. There is a definite will to help. We must just figure out how,” Haran said.
He believes the visit was a success. “We can feel the difference in South Africa’s stance on the invasion, but we will cautiously wait to see what the practical results are. We would be very happy if South Africa supported the resolution the next time there was a vote in the UN.”
Ahead of the delegation's departure from South Africa on Friday, Rashevska said she was satisfied with the progress made during their visit, but she vowed to keep fighting.
“We are working towards the return of Ukrainian prisoners, the unconditional release of our children who were deported to the Russian Federation, and the immediate reconstruction of Ukraine. These are the first doors we need to open,” she said.
“I was pleased and excited to understand that South Africa, even in comparison with other country partners, is willing to take some practical steps and not just make declarations condemning the unlawful deportation and unreasonable delay in [repatriating] our children.
“We understand that the South African government is willing to take it to the highest level of the UN. This is very important to us. Time is counting against us.”
Though Ukraine has identified nearly 20,000 children deported to the Russian Federation, the delegates believe the number to be much higher. “We believe the real number to be somewhere between 260,000 and 700,000,” said Rashevska.
So far only 386 Ukrainian children have been returned to their home country.
“About 8,330 children were sent to so-called re-education camps, more than 4,000 children were transferred through 'evacuation' to the Crimea, and another 1,000-plus children were forcibly transferred from the Crimea to be adopted by Russian families,” Rashevska said.
She said Ukrainian authorities were pushing for establishing a unified legal mechanism for returning the children.
“As we speak, these children are being indoctrinated and re-educated so they lose all Ukrainian expressions of identity.
“We can’t wait until the large-scale invasion has been stopped to save our children. By that time, they will be lost to our nation, [Russified], militarised and indoctrinated.”
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