President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Lvova-Belova, the Office of the Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights is a very important one. You have been at this job for a long time and I know that the workload is increasing. I looked at the documents – the number of inquiries from people has increased by 12 percent. This is considerable growth.
There is also a growing number of inquiries from our citizens concerning the adoption of children from the Donetsk and Lugansk republics and the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions. Your Office has been dealing with this for a long time – for practically nine years.
The tragedy that is taking place in Donbass also concerns our very small citizens, children. Unfortunately, this is the case. Of course, children suffered during the eight years of open aggression against our people in Donbass. The Office of the Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights has been working hard on this issue and continues this work still. I know that you have planned a major national event for March or April.
Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova: The Ministry of Health and our Office have planned a convention of commissioners for children’s rights on medical aid for children in different areas.
And, Mr President, I would like to share with you what we achieved last year and coordinate with you our future plans.
Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Since the beginning of the special military operation, we focused on families and children in the zone of hostilities. At first, this was emergency aid, Mr President. We wanted to help here and now. Children are special and need additional care and better conditions. We evacuated children’s homes into safe areas, arranged rehabilitation and prosthetics for them and provided them with targeted humanitarian assistance.
For example, there were families and children living in the frontline zone that had special, medical nutritional needs. We had to figure out how to deliver it and get it to them. How to provide children with everything they need. So, we established a humanitarian headquarters. Every region now has a headquarters of the commissioner for fulfilling these tasks and providing people with targeted humanitarian aid. But time goes on and we now need to develop systematic assistance.
In my view, my main job is to keep all tasks in focus, to see the entire system and push people whenever necessary. It is clear that integration will be accomplished by 2026, but children cannot wait for that. It should be done here and now.
And so, we are working on these issues in cooperation with federal ministries. We are looking at places where aid is necessary, trying to find additional resources and dealing with the institutions that exist there today. Clearly, in the past 8 years the infrastructure has degraded substantially. It must be repaired and retrofitted. We must also train personnel for our team.
We have now launched the Happy Childhood campaign that allows us to raise extra-budgetary funds and promptly resolve these problems. However, there are practically no institutions left in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions – they are beyond the frontline. So, now we will be establishing new ones.
Mr President, I think it is very important for us not to follow old patterns. We should use new technology and new approaches right away. We are discussing this with the Ministry of Construction. These buildings should have small rooms and be of the same type. We want to put children from 0 to 18 years there and without separating brothers and sisters.
Overall, I hope we will be heard and will manage to do all this. During the Into the Hands of Children humanitarian campaign, we dispatched 19 convoys and another 30 are still ahead. In August, we launched youth shifts.
Vladimir Putin: In Russia, parliamentary parties in the State Duma are very active. The parties represented in the State Duma are very active in this area.
What do you think about their activities?
Maria Lvova-Belova: They are doing a lot.
For our part, we are adding child-related specifics – children’s items, medical nutrition and technical equipment for rehabilitation therapy. In other words, we are meeting specific, individual requirements in a humanitarian convoy.
Or, sometimes a problem emerges. The parents died and grandparents took five children but have no place to live. We help them, buy them a house to let the children live with their own family.
In August, we launched integration shifts for teenagers from the new regions. Children suggested this idea themselves. When I came to Mariupol, they said to me, “We would like to see what we have received from Russia’s arrival.”
Vladimir Putin: You adopted a child from Mariupol yourself, didn’t you?
Maria Lvova-Belova: Yes, Mr President, thanks to you.
Vladimir Putin: Is he small?
Maria Lvova-Belova: No, he is 15 years old.
Now I know what it means to be a mother of a child from Donbass – it is a difficult job but we love each other, that is for sure.
Vladimir Putin: This is the main point.
Мaria Lvova-Belova: That is true. I think we will manage everything, isn’t that right?
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Thousands of children have taken part in these shifts. We are showing them what universities they can go to and what to read about professional guidance and self-improvement. We are involving our colleagues from Sirius and Russia – Land of Opportunity. Everyone is helping us.
It is interesting, we are spending much time and effort on psychological counselling and support of these children because we realise they have lived through hostilities and find life difficult now. And yet they are thinking about their families. They want to know how their parents are, what their grandmothers and grandfathers are doing and what prospects they all have. This is what worries them most.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.
Maria Lvova-Belova: We already had five shifts for a thousand children and have another ten shifts for two thousand children ahead.
When I visit the regions, I always visit traumatology centres where children with mine blast injuries and wounds are treated. And of course, it is scary to hear when they tell you, especially in Mariupol, how Ukrainian troops were shooting people in the back and how children shielded their brothers and sisters with their bodies.
Now we estimate that there are about a thousand such children. Of course, some of them will be disabled, and some of them will make a full recovery and will continue their normal way of life. Mr President, injuries do not just go away, right? They last. I would like to ask you to support our initiative to give these children the status of victims as part of the special military operation and to give additional guarantees to these families and these children.
My favourite part of my work – thanks to you, thank you so much – is placing these children in families. Mr President, it was the most joyful thing that happened in this entire period of time. Because when I met with you in March, you said, “Without delay.” We accommodate everyone who wants it, who are desperate, children who want it.
We went to see the evacuated children in the temporary accommodation facility and it all started when a little girl climbed on my lap and said in my ear: ”They will not take us. I said, ‘Baby, why?’ She says, ‘Because there are five of us.’ I said, ‘Yes, they will. Five, six, whatever.’
We have amazing people, Mr President. We were accommodating children of what is now called the hard-to-place category. These are large family groups of five or six children. In the Moscow Region, one family took a family of nine children into their care. Can you imagine, nine people. Not only did they find parents, they also met each other for the first time on the plane, because they were in different institutions. When you see how it all happens… We followed a regional distribution scheme. I called the governors personally, in 19 regions, the governors picked out good families for the children.
Vladimir Putin: Do they help you?
Maria Lvova-Belova: Yes, they are under personal patronage, the governors are in charge of all this, they oversee everything and provide all the help required. Children regularly send photos of them making pancakes, celebrating birthdays and going to school. This is for those for whom it was almost impossible.
I took one group of children to families and the boys sat there and said, “You know, when we were sitting in a bomb shelter in Donetsk, we huddled together and thought that Mum and Dad would never find us.” They were so happy to see their parents. There are dogs and cats and brothers and sisters there. So, thank you for these children and for my son, who is from Mariupol, he is now also in my family.
Of course, we understand that if there are blood relatives, if we can help in this matter, then we definitely do, and it does not matter where they are, in Ukraine or in other countries, it is important that there is a blood relationship after all. If we determine that for some reason they were separated, we will definitely help with reunification.
Vladimir Putin: Absolutely right.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Look at the pictures in the presentation, they all have balloons. The number of applications has increased, a large percentage are families who said, “We want to take them, please give them to us.” Nineteen regions have taken them now.
Vladimir Putin: There have been almost 30 percent more applications than in 2021.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Yes, a significant increase.
Vladimir Putin: Of course, 27 percent.
Maria Lvova-Belova: I hope, Mr President, this has to do with confidence in the institution of the Children’s Rights Commissioner.
Vladimir Putin: It does, thanks to your work, among other things.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Thank you.
Teenagers is our strategic programme, the flagship of 2022. You were supportive of this as well and were clear that we should focus on this complex, but, without a doubt, interesting category of young people.
You allocated funds and, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, we opened a Federal Centre for Teenager Socialisation Programmes. It was important to build this infrastructure for teenagers. They tell us, “Give us a place, not a school, not a home, but some place where we can get together, talk, and do something interesting under the supervision of mentors, in safety.”
We have opened 20 such teenage spaces around the country over the past several months, and 45 more, recently. These are well-appointed premises with stylish and fashionable interiors where visitors can have a cup of tea or grab a snack if they want to. We have also offered the regions another interesting alternative which is called “street services.” We have trained a team of specialists who go to places where teenagers usually hang out, such as abandoned buildings or shopping centres and offer alternative forms of leisure to them. They once ran into a 12-year-old boy who was roaming the streets alone late in the evening. He told them his dad drinks and beats him, so he has to spend time out in the streets waiting for his dad to pass out. We took him under our patronage. He is now part of our teenage space. Tutors are working with him, he has friends now, and this social service contacted his father to set him straight, and the situation has stabilised.
You see, this is the foundation, the basis for children and their future. So, Mr President, thank you for giving us the opportunity to do in this.
Of course, the focus is on at-risk teenagers. In Chechnya, I worked with Ramzan Kadyrov to set up a pilot military-patriotic camp for teenagers who had committed an offence or were registered with the juvenile unit.
Vladimir Putin: The Chechens do not leave their own people behind.
Maria Lvova-Belova: These were not just Chechen teenagers; we have brought 200 youngsters from all over the country.
My people told me that when the teenagers were brought in, they found lots of illegal items on them. I was horrified over the prospects for the camp, because they brought cigarettes and knives, things like that. Then, the teenagers told us, “They usually lecture us on morals, or punish us. Here, you gave us something new and let us feel like a person.” Then, they went on a tour of architectural sights, got familiar with traditions, and learned to dance the lezginka. In the end, they left happy.
Please support this initiative so we can run another cycle of camps like this, which will be called Power of the Caucasus. They will be held in the Caucasus.
Vladimir Putin: Where exactly did you have this camp?
Maria Lvova-Belova: In Chechnya.
Vladimir Putin: What place specifically?
Maria Lvova-Belova: Mr President, I am unable to give you the name of the place at this moment.
Vladimir Putin: As I understand, heads of three municipalities took part in this as well. They helped you, didn’t they?
Maria Lvova-Belova: The main point is that we have gathered mentors from among these brave patriots that have already been though hostilities. They are so young and active. They were our key mentors.
Vladimir Putin: Did Mr Kadyrov patronise this, as it were?
Maria Lvova-Belova: Yes, I talked about this with him when I came to Chechnya. He showed us how they organise all this. I suggested, “Mr Kadyrov, let’s try it but on your land.” He went for it and they organised everything very well. For our part, we also took part in his programme. I said, these are strong men whom we want to follow. This is an interesting region of quite different traditions and culture. It means a great deal for teenagers to see all this.
Vladimir Putin: This is part of our common culture.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Certainly.
But for these teenagers this was something very different from what they are used to.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I understand.
Maria Lvova-Belova: We would like to continue this for a thousand teenagers. We want to conduct a cycle of shifts in different regions of the Caucasus together with the Russian Children and Youth Movement. I would like to ask you to give us a bit of money for this.
Vladimir Putin: Sacred work. This is money well spent.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Thank you very much.
We conducted a national study Teenagers 360. We wanted to look at teenagers from different sides. I will not go into details at this point but I would like to mention the burden they have to bear at school. It is really stressful for them. We are now trying to work on this together with the Ministry of Education.
The only thing that worries me is that kids are not planning to marry and have children. It is, of course, desirable to work on this in our demographic situation. We will work on this as well.
We have three other strategic programmes. I presented them to you in March. We managed to start carrying out the programme on teenagers immediately but the Children in Family programme will take more time. Its goal is to reduce the number of toddlers in children’s homes and to bring it to zero eventually.
We spent much time and effort on drafting regulations and analysing everything but now we have approached the stage of implementation. I would like to ask you, just as with teenagers, to allocate a small sum of money from the Reserve Fund. It will allow us to establish a team, redirect it and start creating daycare centres for families with disabled children. They will allow mothers to leave their children in such a centre for several hours and go to work or care for themselves, say, go for a doctor’s appointment. Later, we will create Children in Family services that will be oriented toward preventive care.
Vladimir Putin: It is impossible to organise this work well without support from the local authorities.
Maria Lvova-Belova: But this support will certainly be in co-financing.
Vladimir Putin: It is not even about co-financing. Of course, money is always helpful but you must have administrative support. You do not have any problems with the local authorities, do you?
Maria Lvova-Belova: I have reached agreement on cooperation with the governors in 14 regions. They said, “We want to take part.” This is like a laboratory for us. We need to test everything. This pilot project includes 14 governors in 14 regions. We will develop everything. They appointed deputy heads of their governments to supervise this project. We have built a chain of command in close cooperation with them and will continue working on all this.
Vladimir Putin: Excellent.
Maria Lvova-Belova: I will now switch over to the main results of our activities, Mr Putin.
On June 1, we will send you a report. We have listed all the main results there but now I would like to mention just one thing. In a year, we managed to triple our budget by different methods – extra-budgetary funds, subsidies and grants. We also tripled my team – now there are 100 people and we can help people much more than we did before.
We are very grateful to our business people for their support. I am not sure whether I can say this on camera or not…
Vladimir Putin: No problem.
Maria Lvova-Belova: I would like to convey to you greetings and best regards from Viktor and Oksana Medvedchuk. They are helping me a lot and I am very grateful to them.
Konstantin Malofeyev from the Tsargrad television channel is also actively involved together with the Charity Fund of Saint Basil the Great. By the way, in 2014 they were one of the first to help Donbass.
Vladimir Putin: Look, it is always possible to name those who help children in all places, under any circumstances. So, this is normal. Please convey to them my best wishes and words of gratitude as well.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Mr President, I am sure you understand that we often need help here and now, because for me this is an opportunity for making rapid decisions when there is no time for slow dancing.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I agree, of course.
Maria Lvova-Belova: We have also fulfilled all your instructions. I will mention just Syria. We evacuated 69 children from there and I personally made a trip to the Kurds. The situation was difficult. The Americans prompted the Kurds to stage a rally of 1,500 people who wanted to send me back on a military aircraft.
Vladimir Putin: It is possible to come to terms with the Kurds. Did you reach an agreement with them?
Maria Lvova-Belova: Of course.
Vladimir Putin: There you go.
Maria Lvova-Belova: But these were just 69 people and I wish there were more.
Vladimir Putin: You should continue this work. They are sensible people and you can come to terms with them.
Maria Lvova-Belova: I will deal with this problem. I will come to terms with them, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: It is easier to come to terms with them than with the Americans. After all, they are controlling the situation there. So, you should continue this work also via the official authorities of Syria. But I think it is possible to work with them directly on a humanitarian issue. We will think about how to do this and help you.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Thank you very much.
I am very happy for our orphans, who now, thanks to you, thanks to the new law, are registered with local municipalities when they leave the children’s home, until they receive housing. Because before they were homeless, so they could not receive any social guarantees or find a job, but now it is possible.
This is what heartens me.
And the main areas for 2023. I will not list everything, I will focus on the last point.
Vladimir Putin: Intensifying work in the international area.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Yes. We met with Mr Lavrov, and our law stipulates international cooperation.
As part of our partnership strategy with African countries, I would like to ask for your blessing to engage in humanitarian aid, a humanitarian mission with Africa, to join the efforts of non-profit organisations. There are many issues related to vaccination, treatment, and education. There will be a [Russia-Africa] summit, we will take a whole section on protecting children's rights there and work on it separately.
Vladimir Putin: All right. This is point number five of your slide. But I would like to return you to number one – support for children and families of participants in the special military operation.
Maria Lvova-Belova: And here I also have a proposal, Mr President. I would like to talk to you about what seems to me a small injustice. I have children, some of whose fathers serve in the Defence Ministry, and others in a private military company. Both of them are heroes.
Vladimir Putin: Absolutely right.
Maria Lvova-Belova: But some receive social guarantees, while others do not.
Vladimir Putin: We are now considering this issue, so you are right on target. Just formulate all your proposals in this area, we will take them into account when making a decision. Absolutely.
Maria Lvova-Belova: Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Everyone – volunteers, those who signed contracts and are serving under contract, and those who joined the military as part of the draft – they are all fulfilling their sacred duty to the Motherland, and, in this sense, everyone is equal to the Motherland. And so, for all social guarantees and protective measures, they should be in the same situation.
Let us talk about your proposals.