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Belarus Red Cross Mulls Firing Chief Who Bragged About Ukraіnian Child Transfers

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speak during their meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the resort city of Sochi, Russia, Friday, June 9, 2023.
FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speak during their meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the resort city of Sochi, Russia, Friday, June 9, 2023.

The Belarus Red Cross says it is examining a call by the international Red Cross to fire its chief, who made headlines earlier this year for bragging that his organization was ferrying children from Russian-occupied Ukraine to Belarus.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva said Wednesday it wants Dzmitry Shautsou ousted for violating its rules on neutrality and integrity. He was seen in occupied cities of the Donbas region in a military uniform with the "Z" insignia of Russian forces and said he favored deployment of nuclear arms in Belarus.

Yulia Sytenkova, a spokeswoman for the Belarus Red Cross, said Shautsou was re-elected as its head September 7 at a special congress where "the majority of members of the Belarusian organization expressed confidence in him."

Belarusian TV on Thursday aired images of authorities in the Belarusian city of Novopolotsk showing a recently arrived group of Ukrainian children to foreign diplomats. Ukrainian officials and human rights groups have decried the transfers as illegal removals, and it is not clear whether they were carried out with the consent of the children's parents or legal guardians.

The children arrived in Belarus on September 19, and included 44 from the eastern Ukrainian cities of Lysychansk and Sevierodonetsk. The cities have been occupied since July 2022 and sit near the current front line between Russian and Ukrainian forces since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine over 19 months ago.

The head of the government of Novopolotsk, Dzmitry Dziamidau, said another group of children had previously arrived in the city — and both were brought in "to tear children away from the horrors of war."

One girl, identified as 11-year-old Polina Snihurska, said she was enrolled at a Belarusian school. Belarusian authorities did not specify whether the children were orphans or had guardians in Ukraine.

The two-day visit by diplomats included envoys from former Soviet republics plus China, India, Syria and Mozambique, Belarusian officials said. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry urged diplomats not to take part in the "propaganda trip."

Both the Belarus Red Cross and international Red Cross in recent days have said the Belarus chapter wasn't involved in the transfers of children from Ukraine. The Red Cross and local officials said a charity founded by Belarusian Paralympic athlete Alexei Talai, which has government support, conducted the transfers.

But a report aired in July by state Belarus 1 TV channel showed Shautsou visiting Lysychansk and saying the Belarus Red Cross was taking "an active part" in the transfers, which he said were designed for "health improvement" purposes.

The international Red Cross said Wednesday its board has given the Belarus chapter until November 30 to dismiss Shautsou or else it will suspend the branch and recommend that all affiliates halt new partnerships and funding for it.

Sytenkova, the Belarus Red Cross spokeswoman, said it was studying the decision "and a reaction will soon follow."

The Belarusian opposition has called for President Alexander Lukashenko and all others involved in the removal of children from Ukraine to be brought to justice over the transfers.

Opposition leader Pavel Latushka, a former government minister, has said he has handed over to the International Criminal Court documents proving that there have been illegal transfers of Ukrainian children to Belarus.

"Alexander Lukashenko, members of his family, as well as people close to him organized a system of removing children — in particular, orphans — from the occupied territories of Ukraine to Belarus," Latushka told The Associated Press.

"The main purpose of sending these children to Belarus is their ideological indoctrination in accordance with the narratives of the 'Russian world,'" he said.

Latushka said at least 2,100 Ukrainian children aged 6 to 15 years were transferred from over a dozen Ukrainian cities to Belarus between September 2022 and May of this year.

Belarus has been Moscow's closest ally since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and Lukashenko allowed the Kremlin to use Belarusian territory to send troops and weapons into Ukraine.