Maria Lvova

Vladimir Putin’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, the regime’s conservative muse, is one of the main faces of the Russian practice of deporting Ukrainian children for adoption in Russia. Portrait of the woman who made the war in Ukraine one of the recipes for her notoriety.

A blonde woman hugs a huge teddy bear in the corridors of an airport. In a flowered dress, she is kneeling next to a teenager in a wheelchair. Leaning over a little blind boy, she helps him hang a garland on a Christmas tree. On his telegram channel and on Russian television, Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian President’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights since 2021, stages her good works.

In Russia as in Ukraine, she flies to the aid of children. And deports hundreds, forcing them to leave the annexed territories of Ukraine to settle in a country that is foreign to them, Russia.

Conservative muse

Scarf on the head and collar buttoned to the chin, this mother of ten children – five biological, five adopted, including a Ukrainian – thus plays her angelic and maternal airs.

With her husband, a computer scientist who became a pope, she also took under her guardianship thirteen disabled children. They are placed in charitable associations which she herself founded, and which are, for some, accused by embezzlement Russian media.

Extremely rare in Russia, where the birth rate is falling, the large family of this businesswoman specializing in charity is an ideal figure for United Russia, the party of Vladimir Putin, and for the Orthodox Church. A true asset to the regime, the family welcomed a twenty-third child in the spring, Filip, a Ukrainian teenager from Mariupol.

>> To read also: Demographic decline in Russia: “Putin has no other way out but to win” in Ukraine

Because we must not let ourselves be taken in: far from being a simple conservative museMaria Lvova-Belova plays a key role in the deportation of Ukrainian childrenwhom she “saves” by sending them to Russia.

Thousands of Ukrainian children missing

Photographed on board planes, trains, or in bus stations, she proudly proclaims it on social networks and in the state media: thanks to her, hundreds – even thousands, it is difficult to establish their number – of Ukrainian children are “sheltered” by greater Russia. Do not speak to him of “deportation”, but rather of “rescue”; and prefer “trusteeship” to “adoption”.

Coming from orphanages, hospitals, social centers or foster homes in annexed regions, orphans or separated from their families as a result of the fighting, these children are offered to Russian families, against payment from the State.

Completely contrary to international law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the practice was denounced to the International Criminal Court in December by the association French “For Ukraine, for their freedom and ours”. The NGO Amnesty International also pointed to a “war crime” and a possible “crime against humanity”, in a report published last November.

But, far from being hidden, the policy of deporting children feeds Russian propaganda and continues the “de-Ukrainization” wanted by Vladimir Putin, who passed a law in May 2022 to facilitate the granting of Russian nationality to Ukrainians.

Russia thus claims to have taken in five million refugees from annexed regions, while Ukraine claimed early December that 13,000 children had been deported to Russia, although it is difficult to assess their real number.

Tears, balloons and rehabilitation centers

On the Telegram account of Maria Lvova-Belova, the videos follow one another. Children from Donetsk and Donbass are landed in Russia and welcomed by their “new families”, with a lot of tears of joy and balloons. Their first name is often changed, and they are given a new Russian passport in exchange for their old identity.

To facilitate their “integration”, centers for “re-education” and “psychological rehabilitation” have opened in Moscow, Rostov and Tuaspé. Another welcomed a thousand children from Donbass, aged 6 to 15, to Belarus to allow them to “rest and recuperate”, according to the Belarusian website Belta.

They receive “care” there, but also “daily lessons in Russian language and history”, explains Maria Lvova-Belova to her subscribers. The step is necessary, because adaptation can sometimes take time. At the beginning, she confided, Filip showed “some negativity”. He persisted in singing the Ukrainian anthem and talking about his participation in demonstrations in support of the army. But his behavior has changed. He is now “grateful” to this “large Russian family” who saved him.

A dazzling career

A real godsend, the war in Ukraine has allowed this former guitar teacher to continue his meteoric career within Russian institutions. In 2008, she founded, with Anna Kuznetsova, her predecessor as Commissioner for Children’s Rights, a charity, Blagovest, in the Penza region. The two women share the fact of being mothers of several children and close to the Orthodox Church.

Following in the footsteps of her colleague, who joined United Russia in 2014 to be appointed commissioner for the rights of the child in 2016, Maria Lvova-Belova joined the ruling party in 2019, while her husband became a pope.

From there, everything followed: she almost immediately joined the general council of the party, before winning the important “Leaders of Russia” competition in 2020. Appointed senator in the process, she was finally appointed commissioner for children’s rights by Vladimir Putin, at the end of Anna Kuznetsova’s mandate.

A “fragile woman”, according to Vladimir Putin

Since then, the war in Ukraine has brought it even more to the fore. Sanctioned by the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, she was publicly defended in September by Vladimir Putin, who said: “This fragile woman alone does more for children and peace than those shameful Americans who scribble sanctions lists”.

Zealous, the 38-year-old woman does not intend to stop on such a good path. After visiting each of the annexed regions during the fall, she plans for 2023 to open “centers for adolescents” there in order to “give them special attention”… And to deploy teams to meet the “street children” of the annexed territories.

Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian “savior” who deports children from Ukraine