Ukraine returns 13 children from Russia, occupied territories

(Reuters) - Thirteen Ukrainian children returned on Thursday to their homeland from Russia and Moscow-occupied territories of Ukraine with the cooperation of Qatar, officials in Kyiv said.

"The children have already been met in their homeland," Andriy Yermak, president's chief of staff, said on Telegram.

Moscow handed over six children, aged between 6 and 17, Russia's TASS news agency reported on Wednesday.

Ukraine's human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets added that seven children had been brought back from Russian-occupied territories.

Kyiv says about 20,000 children have been taken from Ukraine to Russia or Russian-occupied territory without the consent of family or guardians. It calls this a war crime that meets the U.N. treaty definition of genocide. Moscow says it has protected vulnerable children from the war zone.

The International Criminal Court issued warrants for the arrest of President Vladimir Putin and children's ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova on war crimes charges related to the abduction of Ukrainian children. The Kremlin rejects the allegations.

Qatar agreed to a Ukrainian request to mediate with Russia on the return of children in July 2023, and the first return took place in October.

(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa; editing by Philippa Fletcher)