Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot at the UN Event ‘Stolen Voices’

Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot at the UN Side Event ‘Stolen Voices’ on 23 February 2024.

The spoken word applies.

‘He's my superhero. If it wasn't for him, I'd probably still be in occupied territory.’

These are the words of Maksym, a 16-year-old Ukrainian boy, who I met last year in The Hague.

He told me how he had fled war-torn Mariupul, together with his friend Ivan.

How they were both abducted, and taken to Russian-occupied Donetsk.

And how they were only allowed to leave their room for an hour a day…

and only allowed four meals a week.  

These two orphans were eventually rescued by their school’s headmaster.

Anton Bilai travelled 2,500 miles,

from Kyiv to Poland,

through Lithuania and Latvia,

and from Russia to Donetsk.

He is Maksym’s superhero.

Yet I would like to add:

So are you, Maksym.

You’re a superhero too.

And so are you, Ivan, Illja, Kira, Sashko and Veronika…

All of whom I met on that same day in The Hague.

Some will speak later here today.

And so are all the other Ukrainian children who’ve been abducted.

And all the other children who are facing the horrors of this war.

Children who’ve been robbed of a carefree youth.

I can barely put into words how impressed I am by their courage and strength.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The forced deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children is a truly cynical crime.

It’s absolutely deplorable that Russia is targeting the most vulnerable and innocent in this way.

Not since the Second World War have we seen such a widespread policy aimed at the unlawful deportation and forcible transfer of children.

Taking them from their families;

Holding them in so-called ‘re-education camps’;

Forcing them to undergo military training;

And yes, even forcing them to abandon their own language and culture.

All with one cynical goal:

To destroy Ukraine’s culture.

To destroy Ukraine’s soul.

The gravity of this situation led the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for those responsible.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We too must show courage and perseverance.

Just like Maksym and Ivan.  

Just like their headmaster.

We cannot fail these Ukrainian children.

We must use our voices to help those who cannot speak for themselves.

Because we can make a difference.

For example, the Netherlands has already successfully identified the locations of abducted children.

I call on all countries present here today to help get Ukraine’s stolen children back home to their loved ones.

Our duty to protect them transcends borders and politics.

Each child represents the promise of a better tomorrow…

It is our responsibility to safeguard that promise.

Only then can we hope to stand in the shadow of the superheroes present here today.

Thank you.