A 17-year-old Ukrainian orphan abducted from Mariupol faces conscription into the Russian army, his lawyer has warned, as the Kremlin searches for fresh recruits.
Bogdan Ermokhin will turn 18 on Nov 19 and has already received a notice to report to the Russian military in December.
“I no longer have any doubts about Russia’s plans. When Bogdan turns 18 in three weeks, he will already be an adult, and, most likely, he will be sent to serve in the Russian army,” Ekaterina Bobrovskaya, who represents Bogdan and his sister Valeria, who is still in Ukraine, said in a statement earlier this month.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, more than 19,500 children have been forcibly deported or displaced into Russia, with only 386 returned homes to Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian government.
Bogdan was among 31 children abducted from Mariupol and illegally sent to Russia in May 2022, where he was placed into foster care – despite having his sister as a legal guardian.
He was also allegedly forced to take Russian citizenship and was paraded around as part of Russian propaganda, according to his lawyer and rights organisations advocating on his behalf.
A Telegraph investigation revealed how Moscow is brainwashing abducted children to turn them against Ukraine and to “Russify” them.
The warning from Bogdan’s lawyer prompted a response from Maria Lvova-Bulova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, who along with Vladimir Putin is the target of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for the alleged deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children into Russia.
In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, she claimed that Bogdan was not at risk of being drafted because he was studying in college and was eligible to defer his enlistment.
But once he turns 18, Ukrainian lawyers say he will no longer be able to renounce the Russian citizenship imposed on him and will be barred from leaving Russia unless he fulfills the requirement to serve in the military.
Lvova-Bulova also claimed Bogdan was free to return to Ukraine if he wished, and invited his sister to travel to Russia to collect him.
There have been several unsuccessful attempts to bring him back to Ukraine.
In July last year, he also tried to return home on his own, according to his lawyer.
“Bogdan himself has repeatedly expressed his desire to return to Ukraine,” Ms Bobrovskaya said in a video statement as part of a public campaign.
“At present, we do not have any confirmation regarding the return of the child to Ukraine, despite the fact that all the necessary documents have been submitted, and there is confirmation regarding their receipt.”
Human rights lawyers and advocacy groups have long highlighted concerns that Ukrainian boys abducted into Russia will be conscripted into the military, as per Moscow’s regulations, and forced to fight against their own home country.
Bogdan’s case was among several incidents gathered by Ukrainian human rights lawyers submitting documents and evidence to the ICC in advance of the arrest warrant being issued.
His conscription fears came as the Kremlin scrambled to find more recruits to bolster its forces in Ukraine, who are suffering heavy casualties as they mount an offensive in the east.
The UK Ministry of Defence has said that the Russian military is looking to recruit 420,000 contract personnel by the end of this year.