VILNIUS – Lithuania's Prosecutor General Nida Grunskiene has opened a pre-trial investigation into the alleged criminal transfer of Ukrainian children to Belarus.
The move comes in response to Foreign Minister Gabriel Landsbergis' request to assess the information provided by Belarusian democratic leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, according to a statement issued on Monday.
Speaking with BNS on Monday, Pavel Latushka, a member of the Belarusian opposition Coordination Council, said Tsikhanouskaya's office had provided only half of collected information, adding that it will soon be presented to the Ukrainian side.
"We continue to collect information on all evidence. But the political signal is very important. It is important that Lithuania is on our side, that Lithuania is using all these instruments to help us (...) to take a stance on the Belarusian regime and the Lukashenko's regime responsibility for transferring Ukrainian children to the territory of Belarus," he said.
The accompanying documents indicate that more than 2,000 Ukrainian children, mostly orphans, have been illegally transferred from the Ukrainian territories temporarily occupied by Russia to camps in Belarus since the outbreak of Russia's war against Ukraine, allegedly on the orders of or with the approval of the Belarusian regime.
These crimes are punishable by prison terms of up to fifteen years.
Speaking with reporters on Monday, Lithuanian Justice Vice Minister Gabija Grigaite-Daugirde welcomed the decision and hoped that an arrest warrant would also be issued for Lukashenko in the future.
"This is yet another piece of evidence that Lukashenko has been involved in the aggression in Ukraine from the very beginning, and this is yet another episode which confirms that he should be subject to criminal responsibility and this is inevitable," she said.
"Since we have arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin, perhaps we will soon have an arrest warrant for Lukashenko for exactly the same kind of acts as, clearly, they are accomplices in this case," the vice minister added.
Lithuania's top prosecutor has also decided to separate the latest probe from the pre-trial investigation launched on March 1, 2022 into the treatment of people, prohibited by international law, as well as into aggression and war attacks.
The latter investigation includes around 100 people who have been recognized as victims, and more than 360 war refugees from Ukraine who have been interviewed as witnesses.
This pre-trial investigation is being carried out in close cooperation with the joint investigation team set up at the initiative of the Prosecutor General's Office and coordinated by Eurojust.
This pre-trial investigation will also look into a statement submitted by Lithuanian MP Laurynas Kasciunas regarding possible involvement in war crimes of three Russians who not only spread the Kremlin's war propaganda, but are also allegedly engaged in incitement, torture and the killing of persons protected by international humanitarian law.
Thousands of children have been illegally removed from Ukraine since the start of Russia's large-scale war against Ukraine, and the vast majority of them have been taken from Ukraine's occupied southern and eastern regions. Kyiv estimates that more than 15,000 children have been abducted and deported by the Russians from the occupied territories.