(Kyiv) The head of a Ukrainian relief organization said on Saturday that the organization had brought 31 children back from Russia, where they had been taken during the war.

Mykola Kuleba told a press conference in Kyiv that the children were expected to arrive in the capital later in the day. Mr. Kuleba is the Executive Director of the organization Save Ukraine and the Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights.

Deportations of Ukrainian children have been a concern since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The International Criminal Court increased pressure on Russia when it issued arrest warrants on March 17 against President Vladimir Putin and Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, whom she accuses of abducting children from Ukraine.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (IARC) said this week that it had been in contact with Ms Lvova-Belova, making it the first confirmation of a high-level international response aimed at reuniting families with children who were forcibly evicted.

ICRC spokesperson Jason Straziuso said the organization was in contact with Ms Lvova-Belova “in accordance with its mandate to restore contact between separated families and facilitate reunification where possible”.

An Associated Press investigation uncovered Ms Lvova-Belova’s involvement in the kidnappings and exposed an open attempt to adopt Ukrainian children from Russia.

Ms Lvova-Belova told an informal meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday that the children had been taken for their safety, not abducted – a claim widely dismissed by the international community.

The exact number of Ukrainian children taken to Russia has been difficult to determine, and figures from countries at war differ wildly.

A statement posted on Twitter by Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya on Wednesday said more than 19,500 children had been taken from their families or orphanages and forcibly deported.