A high-level meeting has been held in New York on the initiative of Estonia to urge the United Nations and the international community to advocate for the Ukrainian children suffering as a result of Russia’s barbaric war. President Alar Karis joined Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska to give the opening address at the event, which was moderated by Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna. “We cannot allow Russia to destroy the childhoods of Ukrainian children or to violently rob the youngsters of them,” the head of state insisted.
President Karis said that life and death are interwoven in Ukraine. “What was once an apartment building is now a nine-storey graveyard,” he remarked. “Not only is Russia unleashing the horrors of war on Ukraine, but it is also kidnapping Ukrainian children: tens of thousands have been forcibly removed to Russia and Belarus and placed in camps where they are being brainwashed.”
Even to say such words, the head of state admitted, was painful. “To imagine such bleakness is truly harrowing,” he said. “But it is something we must speak of, and something we must do everything in our power to stop. We must also do everything we can to bring those who have committed these crimes against humanity to justice. In the name of the children of Ukraine and their families, we cannot allow the world to be such a barbaric place – because all children deserve a normal childhood and have the right to dream of a bright future.”
President Karis mentioned his repeated visits to Ukraine since the start of the war, most recently to Kyiv with his wife Sirje Karis, who took part in a summit of the spouses of heads of state focussing on children’s mental health issues. “I have seen charred bodies, the ashes and the ruins with my own eyes,” he said. “But the saddest sight I have ever seen is the memorial in Kyiv to the more than 500 children who have lost their lives due to the war. Scores more have been injured.”
The head of state noted that almost two thirds of all children in Ukraine have had to leave their homes and that only one third are able to attend school. “We cannot simply stand by and watch this injustice unfold,” he urged. “We cannot allow Russia’s cruelty to continue.”
As part of the UN General Assembly, Estonia organised a high-level side-meeting with the Ukrainian, American, Belgian and EU delegations focussing on the situation of Ukrainian children in the war of aggression instigated by Russia and on the issue of the forced deportation of children to which Estonia has consistently drawn international attention.