On New Year’s Eve, the Ukrainian authorities returned home two women and seven children who had been held in refugee camps in Syria.

According to the press service of the Office of the President, a plan for the evacuation of Ukrainian citizens was approved by the Head of State back in October 2019, but it became possible to implement it now when the security and epidemic situation stabilised.

“On New Year’s Eve, a large-scale operation to evacuate Ukrainian citizens from Syria was completed. Nine people – two women and seven children – who were in refugee camps in northeastern Syria, returned home, according to their relatives. The plan for their return was agreed and coordinated personally by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky,” the statement reads.

The press service informed that in 2019 a special working group was set up to check the citizens who remained in Syria for possible ties with members of the international terrorist organisation Islamic State. According to the results of long inspections, Ukrainian counterintelligence did not reveal any facts of their involvement in terrorist activities.

As noted, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the process of returning Ukrainians home. Due to the spread of the coronavirus in Syria and Iraq, significant restrictions were imposed. In particular, the borders were closed and air traffic was stopped.

The press service stressed that efforts to release other Ukrainians who stay in Syrian camps will be made.

The day before, an employee of one of the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, who participated in a special operation to evacuate Ukrainian citizens, said that two Crimean Tatar women and seven children had been taken out of the al-Hawl and Roj refugee camps. Their relatives in Ukraine appealed to the authorities with a request for evacuation.

“Thanks to a long and difficult special operation, Ukrainian women were released from the Syrian camp. A year ago, we found almost 40 of our compatriots and their children living in terrible conditions in a camp for families of Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists, the most violent organisation of radical Islam. The Ukrainians begged to bring them home. And here we are coming back,” journalist Andriy Tsaplienko wrote on his Facebook page.

According to media reports, this is only the first stage of the operation, and other citizens are to be returned to Ukraine in the future. Back in 2019, Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people Refat Chubarov stated that 75 Ukrainian citizens – 21 women and 54 children – stayed in refugee camps in Syria.

Bohdan Marusyak

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