31 July 2023

Children's special operation. Who takes Ukrainian children to Belarus?

Some children from Ukraine were taught to play hockey by former star Dzmitry Baskau. Another group was sent to watch a match with Lukashenko.

What Russian president Vladimir Putin calls the holy cause of saving life and health has been assessed by European parliamentarians as a crime against humanity and genocide. A crime which also involves Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko. 

We are talking about the removal of children from the occupied Ukrainian territories. First they go to Russia, and then some end up in Belarus. Based on public figures, not everyone returns home. BIC investigates which Belarusians have been involved in the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children. 

"My house is ruined." "It’s bad there.” "They shoot a lot." "It gets scary from time to time."

These are the words of children from an orphanage destroyed by Russian troops in the coal mining city of Horlivka in Donetsk region. The quotes were provided by the state-run publication "Belarus Today" in an April story on the arrival of 350 schoolchildren from the occupied Ukrainian territories. 

In Belarus, the children were asked to remember "their childhood the way it should be: calm, exciting, and full of joy". They were sent to the Dubrava camp, owned by the giant fertilizer company Belaruskali. 

In mid-July, the Telegraph wrote an article about Dubrava and camps at the Ostroshitsky Gorodok sanitarium, the Zubrenok national children's educational and health center in the Minsk region, and the Golden Sands sanitarium in the Gomel Region. According to the article, over 2,000 children from Ukraine have arrived at those camps since September 2022.

It was possible to bring more than a thousand Ukrainian schoolchildren to Belarus in April-May of this year "thanks to the instructions of Aleksandr Lukashenko," Belarus Today stated. For the involvement of the "regime in the illegal movement of children," European Parliament deputies demand that an international arrest warrant be issued for him. It is similar to a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for Putin. 

Other Belarusians, including those from Lukashenko's entourage and family, may also be implicated. Some of them were identified by BIC using photographs from events with the evacuated children. 

Under the guise of help 

December 2022. Christmas Eve the Adler-Minsk train arrived at the capital's railway station. Children from occupied Horlivka were aboard. They were met by members of the pro-government Russian Night Wolves biker club, along with volunteers and Paralympian Aliaksei Talai, founder of a charitable foundation

In March, Talai asked the Standing Committee of the Union State (of  Belarus and Russia) to help organize the arrival of children from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This is written in a document obtained by BIC thanks to Cyber Partisans. The letter was signed by Dmitry Mezentsev, secretary of the Union State.  

Source: Cyber Partisans

It is under Talai's leadership that Ukrainian children are entertained and ideologically indoctrinated in Belarus.

"Having received the consent and support of the President, we began to work out the possibility of recreation for the children of Donbass in Belarus," Talai said on the BelTA YouTube channel in June. 

In addition to visiting a skating rink, swimming pool, zoo, dolphinarium, circus and dinosaur park, children were taken to the Belarusian Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the security center of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. To help children from Horlivka take their mind off the shelling back home, pro-government Belarusian media report that servicemen organized an exhibition of weapons and held master classes in shooting with military unit 3214.

This unit is known for violent crackdowns on protesters in March 2006 and August 2020, led by former unit commander Dzmitry Paulichenka.

He is called the founder of a "death squadron" which destroyed criminal authorities and opponents of Lukashenko in 1999-2000, according to media reports. 

Source: Instagram account of a vacationer in a sanatorium in Belarus
Source: Instagram account of the Aliaksei Talai Charitable Foundation

Concerts are also held for children from the occupied Ukrainian territories. They are hosted by pro-government artists such as the pop singing Gruzdev sisters. In a speech on October 7, 2022, Putin’s birthday, they called the children "chosen ones" and "lucky ones". 

They also made this statement: "Hope Biden dies, God, forgive me. And hope Zelensky dies, too. And Putin thrives and takes control of all of Ukraine." The National Anti-Crisis Management handed over a video to The Telegraph.

The National Anti-Crisis Management also submitted materials to the International Criminal Court in The Hague regarding the role of Lukashenko, Talai, and others “involved in illegal transfer of Ukrainian children” from the occupied Ukrainian territories to Belarus.

During the meeting on June 27, 2023, the parties agreed to cooperate on this matter.

Earlier, the National Anti-Crisis Management prepared a report titled "The Role of the Lukashenko Regime and the Union State of Belarus and Russia in the Illegal Transfer and Re-Education of Ukrainian Children." It was presented to the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, and handed over to the PACE and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, as well as to the foreign ministers of Ukraine, EU countries, the US State Department, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner. It was also shared with major global media outlets.

The program also includes sporting events. Some children from Ukraine were taught to play hockey by former star Dzmitry Baskau. Another group was sent to watch a match with Lukashenko.

Source: Instagram account of Yuliya Kazakova
Source: Instagram account of Yuliya Kazakova

Lukashenko’s family

Members of the Lukashenko family are involved in organizing events for children who were brought to Belarus through Rostov-on-Don. 

One of them is Vladimir Kulakov, an activist with the pro-government association Patriots of Belarus. The co-owner of Bystrye Avtomobilnye Moyki" is the husband of Tatsiana Kulakova, sister of Presidential son Dmitry Lukashenko's wife Anna.[*][*]      

Kulakov can be seen in photographs with Aliaksei Talai taken after a concert at the Zeleny Bor sanatorium, which was organized for children from Horlivka.  

Dzmitry Kazakou, Yuliya Kazakova, Aliaksei Talai
Source: Instagram account of the Aliaksei Talai Charitable Foundation. From left to right: Yauheni Nazarevich, Vladimir Kulakov; further from top to bottom: Dzmitry Kazakou, Yuliya Kazakova, Aliaksei Talai
Volodymyr Kulakov, Yauheni Nazarevich, Aliaksei Talai, Dzmitry Kazakov, Yuliya Kazakova
Source: Instagram account of Yuliya Kazakova. From left to right: Vladimir Kulakov, Yauheni Nazarevich, Aliaksei Talai, Dzmitry Kazakou, Yuliya Kazakova

Kulakov can also be seen in a photo from the hockey match to which the Ukrainian children were taken. He gave an interview to one of the pro-government media outlets, and was called an entrepreneur from Donetsk.

Vladimir Kulakov, Mikalai Zarubitski
Source: Source: Instagram account of Olga Pidgaina (Volkova). From left to right: Vladimir Kulakov, Mikalai Zarubitski

Kulakov's business partner Mikalai Zarubitski, chairman of the Patriots of Belarus and organizer of motor rallies in support of Lukashenko, is also probably involved with Ukrainian children in Belarus.

He can be seen in a photo from a hockey match that Ukrainian children attended (above), as well as in a photo with Talai taken after the event at the Dubrava sanatorium.

Mikalai Zarubitski, Aliaksei Talai
Source: Instagram account of Alexander Lukyanov. From left to right: Mikalai Zarubitski, Aliaksei Talai

Dmitry Lukashenko is also involved in the indoctrination of Ukrainian children in Belarus. Pro-Russian activist Olga Volkova, who runs an Instagram account under the name Olga Pidgaina (nickname podgainaiaolga), thanked him personally as well as everyone who "fills every day of the children’s stay with warmth and care”.

Source: Instagram account of Olga Pidgaina (Volkova)

One of the Talai Foundation posts says the arrival of children in Belarus was organized with the help of the Presidential Sports Club, and personally the chairman of the organization, Dmitry Lukashenko.

Source: Instagram account of Aliaksei Talai

Criminal Fund

In addition to Kulakov and Talai, there are several other people shown in the photo from Zeleny Bor camp. The man holding the flag of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic is Dzmitry Kazakou. To his right is his wife Yuliya.[*][*][*]

Dzmitry is a member of the Talai Foundation board of trustees. Yuliya is a coordinator of social projects.

Source: Youtube channel of the BelTA Information Agency

In February 2023, the Kazakovs were at the Minski track in Raubichi " rooting for the First One" — Aleksandr Lukashenko and his team took part in the biathlon relay races. Dzmitry and Yuliya were sharing photos from the event. In one they are talking talk with Lukashenko's eldest son Viktor; in another, one Dzmitry Kazakou is shown hugging Victor.

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Source: Instagram account of Yuliya Kazakova.

Yuliya graduated from the Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs but did not work in any law enforcement agency.[*]   

Source: Instagram account of Yuliya Kazakova

She helped the security forces in a different way: in the fall of 2020, she twice denounced groups of people with white-red-white symbols used by the Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918, and once reported a road sign painted in protest colors. [*] 

Thanks to the Cyber Partisans, the BIC investigators found out that her husband Dzmitry was convicted of theft in the early 1990s and again in the early 2000s for a combination of crimes he was sentenced to five years and one month with forfeiture. He served his sentence in the Shklov colony. [*]

The photo from Zeleny Bor also shows Yauheni Nazarevich, a member of the Presidential Sports Club and an employee of the Aliaksei Talai Charitable Foundation. [*]  

Like Dzmitry Kazakou, he has a criminal record. In 2002, Nazarevich was sentenced to two years of community service for beating a woman at the Kupalinka recreation center in the village of Grandichi. [*][*]        

Also in the company of Talai, members of the Lukashenko family, pro-government performers and athletes was the writer Mikalai Haurylau (Nikolai Gavrilov). He helps the Talai Foundation send hygiene items, food, clothes and medicine to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. [*]

Before cooperating with the foundation, Haurylau (Gavrilov) spent two years at a penal colony in the Vitebsk Region. It is not entirely clear whether he served a sentence or worked there. In 2007, Haurylau (Gavrilov) was prosecuted for stealing money from a restaurant using life-threatening violence. In 2011-2012, he was engaged in illegal business activities with no proper registration and permission. [*][*][*]  

Haurylau (Gavrilov) led the collection of humanitarian aid to Donbass from St. Elisabeth Monastery in Minsk. This was reported by activists of the Christian group Khrystsyanskaya Viziya. They claimed the help to civilians was only a cover and the collections were actually organized to support the Russian military. 

Since August 2022, this activity has ceased to be a secret. A volunteer group called Help the Brothers has appeared in the monastery and officially raises funds for military personnel from Russia. 

Haurylau (Gavrilov) has his own Telegram channel and regularly posts reports after his trips to the occupied territories. He also says that he took Donbass children to Belarus. [*][*]      

Who pays for the "evacuations"?

The removal of children from the occupied territories to Belarus is paid from the Union State budget, that is, from the state budgets of Russia and Belarus. In September 2022 alone, 29 million Russian rubles (nearly half a million dollars) were allocated from the Union budget for the "rendering of humanitarian assistance" in the occupied territories. Some of this money was allocated for the care of Ukrainian children in Belarus. 

The Talai Foundation also asks Belarusian executive committees for financial assistance. It organized trips to the occupied territories with humanitarian aid, and promised to bring the most needy children to Belarus for "recovery and rehabilitation".

In addition to money from the Union State budget, Aliaksei Talai's organization receives support from Russian officials and a private sponsor, a Russian citizen who had wished to remain anonymous. This Russian donated the Romanov estate near the Belarus city of Borisov to the fund.

Thanks to the Cyber Partisans, we have identified the anonymous sponsor. He is Nikolay Vladimirovich Gints, a Russian businessman from Kamchatka. Judging by social networks, his relatives live in Borisov.

Aliaksei Talai, Nikolay Gints
Source: Instagram account of Anna Gints. From left to right: Aliaksei Talai, Nikolay Gints
Source: Instagram account of Anna Gints

Talay said that it is planning to create a new rehabilitation center for children on the donated estate. The speaker of the Federation Council of Russia, Valentina Matvienko, supported the idea of creating such a center and offered to allocate money from the budget of the Union State for its construction. 

Russia began to remove children from the occupied territories shortly after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. According to the Ukrainian project Children of War, almost 20,000 were deported to Russia. 

The Kremlin calls this evacuation and rescue. OSCE alleges kidnapping and war crimes. This position is also supported by the International Court in The Hague, which issued an arrest warrant for Putin and the children's rights ombudsman under the President of Russia, Maria Lvova-Belova. 

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide calls the forced removal of children from one human group to another a genocide.

This material was prepared with the support of Cyber Partisans.

The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.

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