Ukraine's Zelenskiy slaps sanctions on 108 people, 37 Russian groups

FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Zelenskiy addresses a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Brussels

By Maria Starkova and Elaine Monaghan

LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has sanctioned 37 Russian groups and 108 people including a former prime minister and a former education minister and said he aimed to fight wartime abductions of children from Ukraine and other "Russian terror".

"We are increasing the pressure of our state onto them and each of them must be held responsible for what they have done," he said in his nightly video address on Saturday, after his office issued corresponding decrees with his signature.

Zelenskiy did not associate specific individuals or groups with particular wrongdoings. The decrees showed a range of 10-year penalties against individuals and five-year penalties against non-profit groups including one named in English as the "Russian Children's Foundation."

Zelenskiy said in his address that the list included "those involved in the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children from the occupied territory" and individuals who "in various ways help Russian terror against Ukraine."

Some of the newly-sanctioned people, which included many with Russian citizenship, had previously been punished with separate or similar penalties.

Those included Dmytro Tabachnyk, a former minister of education and science who had his Ukrainian citizenship stripped from him in February, and ex-Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

With former President Viktor Yanukovich, Azarov previously had assets and property frozen among other penalties. The two men fled Ukraine for Russia in 2014 after a crackdown on street protests that killed more than 100 demonstrators in Kyiv.

Other individuals penalized on Saturday included Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed head of Crimea, and Leonid Pasechnik, whom Putin appointed head of Luhansk, the eastern Ukrainian region Russia annexed in 2022.

The sanctioned Russian groups included several whose names or websites indicate they work with children.

One sanctioned group was named Kvartal Lui, which matches an organization with a website which says its founder is Children's Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, herself sanctioned by Kyiv in October 2022.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague this month issued an arrest warrant against Lvova-Belova, along with President Vladimir Putin, accusing them of the war crime of deporting children from Ukraine.

Zelenskiy's new list also sanctioned the executive director of Kvartal Lui, Sofia Lvova-Belova. Her older sister, Maria Lvova-Belova, has said children were taken to shelter them from violence and denied committing any war crime.

Kyiv says about 20,000 children have been removed to Russia or Russian-held territory without the consent of family or guardians, which it says amounts to a war crime that meets the UN treaty definition of genocide.

Yale University published research on Thursday saying more than 2,400 children aged between six and 17 had also been taken to 13 facilities across Russian-allied Belarus.

The report, from a group that receives U.S. State Department funding, said that the transports across Russian territory to its western neighbor were "ultimately coordinated" between Putin and Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Zelenskiy's decrees upheld a decision by the National Security and Defence Council to issue sanctions with an array of penalties including blocking assets, trade, transit, leasing, removal of capital, land purchases and other financial and economic activities.

(Writing by Elaine Monaghan in Washington, Editing by Franklin Paul)