Amid Violence, Mass Forced Displacement, ‘Lives of Millions’ of Ukrainian Civilians at Stake, Humanitarian Affairs Chief Tells Security Council
Delegate Says Russian Federation ‘Riding Roughshod’ over Geneva Conventions
The situation in conflict-ravaged Ukraine is dire, the top United Nations officials for humanitarian affairs and refugees told the Security Council today, as they outlined the need for increased aid amid the violence and mass forced displacement unleashed by the Russian Federation’s military offensive.
“The lives of millions of civilians are simply at stake,” Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council as he briefed them on the situation in Ukraine. He highlighted that, on 1 March, the Secretary-General will launch a humanitarian appeal that includes both a flash appeal and a refugee response plan.
“We have all been watching the military offensive in Ukraine with a sense of disbelief and horror,” he continued, noting that the recent events have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis caused by eight years of fighting in the eastern part of the country. Those needs have increased exponentially and now expand across the entire nation. As a result, the United Nations has increased its humanitarian presence, he said, noting that its movements have been hampered by an initial lack of assurances that they will be protected. Today, he finally received assurances in that regard, he said. In the meantime, local groups, including the Ukrainian Red Cross, are coming to the aid of civilians and evacuations.
He went on to describe the damages to critical civilian infrastructure, such as health, electricity and water and sanitation, caused by fighting in cities and towns. “This effectively leaves civilians without the basics for day-to-day life,” he said. They are the ones who will bear the brunt of aggression, he underscored, emphasizing that, the longer the offensive continues, the greater the cost, with women facing greater risks of gender-based violence and children being exposed to physical harm. In addition, the economy could implode, causing a ripple effect that will exceed national borders.
Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that, unless the conflict halted immediately, the global community should expect to see up to 4 million refugees in the coming weeks, an overwhelming burden for those countries receiving them. In the face of this, he noted that citizens and private companies have donated over $40 million to his agency in just a few days and he called on Governments to contribute, as well.
Hundreds of thousands of people are seeking refuge in countries bordering Ukraine, seeking food, shelter and support, he continued. It is the largest exodus in Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990s and includes 280,000 refugees going to Poland, 94,000 to Hungary, 40,000 to the Republic of Moldova and 30,000 to Romania and other States. “We may have just seen the beginning,” he cautioned, commending those Governments in allowing access to those in flight, both Ukrainians and third-party nationals alike.
Noting that Ukrainian refugees will join the swelling ranks of those from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, he stressed that humanitarian workers could not keep pace. “The responsibility that you have to ensure peace and security prevail over power struggles and narrow national interests has never been as urgent and indispensable a task as it is tonight,” he said, emphasizing: “If you fail and we fail, it may be too late.”
Ukraine’s delegate said that the Russian Federation has attacked kindergartens, hospitals and orphanages, mobile aid brigades and ambulance crews in his country. “There is no debate — these are war crimes,” he said. Against that backdrop, he applauded the decision by the International Criminal Court Prosecutor to open an investigation on possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as the appointment of an Assistant-Secretary-General to serve as the United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine.
In the context of the provision of humanitarian corridors for civilians, he cautioned that, despite assurances of security, “Russian words often do not match their deeds”, and these corridors may instead become military targets. “Do not listen to Russian lies — listen to Ukrainian cries,” he said. In a similar vein, he urged delegates not to be misled by Russian Federation allegations of racial discrimination of refugees. If any cases become known, they will be investigated, he said.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, President of the Security Council for the month of February, speaking in his national capacity, emphasized that “the special military operation conducted by the Russian military does not have the goal of occupying Ukraine or harming the local population.” There is no evidence of the death of civilians caused by the Russian armed forces, even though the opposite is being claimed as “dirty lies replicated in Western mass media very unfortunately have become a dangerous mark of our times”.
He underscored that Moscow’s goal is to demilitarize the country and protect the people of Donbas and of Ukraine. As a result, there are no humanitarian concerns in the territories held by the Russian Federation’s armed forces. After the radicals departed, local authorities were able to provide all necessary services. However, there are humanitarian concerns in towns where the Ukrainian authorities hold sway, as they have given an order to provide arms to all citizens who request them, including newly released prisoners. The end result of this is mass killings, robberies and looting, he said.
The special operation conducted by the Russian Federation does not impact civilian infrastructure, he continued. Over five days, there has not been a single documented case of targeted destruction and no evidence of the death of civilians caused by the Russian military. The opposite is constantly being claimed.
France’s representative stressed that the Russian Federation is violating the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and “riding roughshod” over the Geneva Conventions. The humanitarian devastation is tragic, he said, noting the escalating number of civilian victims, including children. With that in mind, the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers is paramount, he said, calling for unimpeded and unhampered access to all those in need of assistance.
The United Kingdom’s delegate decried Russian Federation President Vladimir V. Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, which has resulted in the threat of a humanitarian disaster for 44 million people. She went on to describe people hiding underground in Kyiv to escape violence, while missiles rain down on Kharkiv and cluster munitions destroy residential areas. The Russian Federation’s representative may dismiss the United Nations reporting on this as hysteria, she said, but over half a million people have already fled Ukraine’s borders, while another 7 million are displaced.
India’s representative applauded the beginning of direct talks between the parties to the conflict. Differences, he said, can only be resolved by sustained diplomatic efforts. He highlighted his Government’s provision of humanitarian aid, including medical supplies, while also expressing his concern over the plight of Indian nationals trapped in Ukraine, noting that Government officials stood ready in neighbouring countries to offer assistance.
China’s delegate warned against politicizing the process of the provision of humanitarian aid and said the United Nations and the international community should approach the matter with neutrality and impartiality. With that in mind, he underscored the need for direct dialogue between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The Security Council should play a constructive role in any action it takes, he stressed.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, who is also the President of the Security Council for February, began the meeting by announcing that 12 of the staff of his Government’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations were being expelled. It is a gross violation by the host country of the Vienna Convention, he said. His delegation needed to start an arbitration procedure on the host country in order to maintain a normally functioning Mission.
In response, the representative of the United States said that it was not the subject of the current meeting, particularly given the gravity of the subject under discussion. The steps taken were in full accordance with the Headquarters Agreement, he said, noting that those diplomats asked to leave were engaged in activities that were not in accordance with their responsibilities as diplomats.
Also speaking today were Mexico, Kenya, Ireland, Norway, Albania, Ghana, Gabon, United Arab Emirates and Brazil.
The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 4:55 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefing the Security Council from Geneva via video‑teleconference, said: “We have all been watching the military offensive in Ukraine with a sense of disbelief and horror.” The scale of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure has been alarming. Humanitarian needs are skyrocketing in the hardest-hit areas, and civilian children, women and men are being injured and killed. On Monday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported at least 406 civilian casualties, including at least 102 dead. The real figure could be considerably higher, as many reported casualties have yet to be confirmed. At least 160,000 people have been internally displaced across Ukraine, fleeing for safety. Again, the actual figure is likely much higher and could potentially be a significant proportion of the entire population, he noted, adding that more than half a million refugees have been forced to flee their country in search of safety.
Aerial attacks and fighting in urban areas are damaging critical civilian facilities and disrupting essential services such as health, electricity, water and sanitation, he continued. “This effectively leaves civilians without the basics for day-to-day life,” he pointed out. Bridges and roads have been destroyed, cutting off people’s access to critical supplies and services. The use of explosive weapons in urban areas carries a high risk of indiscriminate impact, which is of particular concern in places like Kyiv and Kharkiv. Civilians will undeservedly suffer the most from these attacks on densely populated urban centres. Calling on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and spare all civilians and civilian objects from harm throughout their military operations, he stressed that the longer the offensive continues, the greater the cost will be for civilians. Children will miss school and face a greater risk of physical harm, displacement and severe emotional distress. Women, so often disproportionately affected by conflict, will be at even greater risk of gender‑based violence. The economy could implode, which will further exacerbate humanitarian needs and create a ripple effect that will travel far beyond Ukraine's borders.
The upheavals in recent days are deepening a pre-existing humanitarian crisis, he said. Eight gruelling years of conflict in eastern Ukraine have already left 3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance on both sides of the contact line in the Donbas region. Humanitarian needs are much greater now and include large-scale displacement, across and beyond the whole country and not only in one region. The United Nations has expanded its humanitarian presence in Ukraine and will continue to do so. For the last three days, however, the Organization’s movements have been seriously constrained as a result of ongoing fighting, along with a lack of assurances from parties to the conflict that humanitarian movements will be protected. Nonetheless, this evening, he began to receive assurances that such aid will be protected, he said, expressing his hope that this will become a reality. Local organizations and institutions are doing a truly remarkable job responding, he said, highlighting that non-governmental organizations and the Ukrainian Red Cross are working to support civilians and evacuation operations.
The most pressing humanitarian needs are for emergency medical services, including sexual and reproductive health services, critical medicine, health supplies and equipment, safe water for drinking and hygiene, as well as shelter and protection for the displaced, he continued. More people need to be reached with aid, and parties to the conflict must provide assurances that humanitarian workers and movements will be protected “even during the most severe days of the conflict”, he emphasized. Additionally, more resources are needed. On Wednesday, the Secretary-General will launch a humanitarian appeal for this crisis with two components: a three-month flash appeal for the situation inside the country and a regional refugee response plan for the situation outside, he said, calling on Member States to show support with quick, generous and flexible funding. “The lives of millions of civilians are simply at stake,” he stressed, reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
FILIPPO GRANDI, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, speaking via video‑teleconference and expressing pride that humanitarian workers had decided to remain in Ukraine, also noted that colleagues on the ground are now caught up in the deadly conflict. Already displaced, military attacks might force them to move again, but they are still striving to deliver help to those in need whenever the small window of relative security allows it, in partnership with non‑governmental organizations. The situation is moving so quickly and the levels of risk so high that it is impossible for humanitarian workers to systematically deploy the help needed. He echoed the Secretary-General’s urgent call to protect civilians and infrastructure and permit humanitarian access. Failure will compound the already extraordinary levels of suffering.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of people are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, needing food, shelter and support, he continued, pointing out that there are 520,000 refugees already in those countries. In 40 years, he noted he has rarely seen such an incredibly fast-rising exodus, the largest in Europe since the Balkan wars, including 280,000 refugees to Poland; 94,000 to Hungary; 40,000 to Republic of Moldova; and 30,000 to Romania and other States. Commending the Governments of receiving countries for allowing entry, he expressed serious concern over the likely escalation in number. “We may have just seen the beginning,” he warned. He encouraged those Governments to continue maintaining access for all fleeing — Ukrainians and also third-party nationals, with no discrimination. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partner agencies and non-governmental organization are scaling up, encouraging host countries to avail themselves of support and expert advice in many organizational and response capacities.
Expressing regret that, unless there is an immediate halt to conflict, Ukrainians will continue to flee, he said organizations are planning for up to 4 million refugees in coming days and weeks — a huge burden for receiving States. Citing the launch of a United Nations humanitarian appeal for Ukraine tomorrow, he noted private companies and citizens worldwide have donated over $40 million to UNHCR alone in just a few days; he called on Governments to do the same. Ukrainian refugees — like Syrians, Afghans, Ethiopians and others — all hope to return to their countries as quickly as possible. He reiterated what he had told the Security Council a few months previous: humanitarian workers are dedicated but cannot keep pace with the growing number and gravity of crises. “The responsibility that you have to ensure peace and security prevail over power struggles and narrow national interests has never been as urgent and indispensable a task as it is tonight,” he said, adding: “If you fail and we fail, it may be too late.”
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) describing the humanitarian consequences of the Russian Federation offensive in Ukraine tragic, said that the number of civilian victims, including children continues to increase and civilian infrastructure is being destroyed. Further, some 500,000 have been forced to flee and this figure continues to climb hour by hour. Hailing the solidarity shown by neighbouring States, he said that the Russian Federation — a permanent member of the Security Council — is violating the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, trampling on international humanitarian and human rights law and riding roughshod over the Geneva Conventions. The protection of civilians and humanitarian personnel is an absolute priority and there is no compromise on this, he stressed, reiterating his call for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need. France and its partners in the European Union stand firmly beside Ukraine and its population. The European Union has already announced €90 million in humanitarian assistance. France has sent 33 tons of humanitarian assistance to Poland to help Ukrainians and is sending more to the Republic of Moldova. He also hailed the upcoming launch of a United Nations flash appeal for Ukraine and a refugee response plan for Ukrainians. France and Mexico will bring a draft resolution to the Security Council that calls for full respect for humanitarian law and unobstructed humanitarian access to respond to the urgent needs of the civilian population, he said.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) said the figures and scenes described by briefers reveal a humanitarian situation of increasing gravity. His delegation will join France in presenting a draft resolution to seek the cessation of hostilities, safety of civilians and access for humanitarian workers. Underscoring that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is unacceptable, he expressed concern that populations are deprived of electricity, water and basic infrastructure. Further, humanitarian workers must be afforded access to those in need without restriction. Noting that the alarming figures of refugees will rise rapidly, he urged States to keep borders open so the principle of non-refoulement is respected. Ukraine needs international solidarity today, he stressed, calling on all parties to respect international humanitarian law.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), underlining that the humanitarian suffering in Ukraine is unnecessary, expressed his regret over the mounting casualties and the hundreds of thousands internally displaced people, including those exiting Ukraine as refugees, as well as the growing damage to civilian objects and infrastructure. He thanked the Governments of Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia for working with Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enable its citizens in Ukraine visa‑free entry. However, in the unfolding emergency, there have been disturbing reports about the racist treatment of Africans and people of African descent seeking to flee Ukraine to safety, he said, noting that the media is covering these appalling incidents. Indeed, several States have confirmed that their citizens are suffering such treatment. He strongly condemned this racism, emphasizing that the mistreatment of African peoples on Europe’s borders needs to cease immediately, whether to the Africans fleeing Ukraine or crossing the Mediterranean. He also went on to stress that the extensive unilateral economic sanctions that have been announced against the Russian Federation are almost certain to have serious humanitarian consequences. “Their effect, in total, may even amount to a form of blockade,” he said, noting that such considerable sanctions, rather than opening the path to peace may lead to an escalation, and broadening, of the conflict. The only way out of this increasingly dangerous crisis is for the prioritization of diplomacy to limit all military manoeuvres and to open the path to negotiation for peace, he said.
RICHARD MILLS, JR. (United States) said that, in a matter of days, the Russian Federation’s unprovoked and premeditated attack on Ukraine has unleashed great suffering in the country. The international community must document and address all violations of international law and international human rights law. With half a million people already fleeing Ukraine, not including those who are displaced, “a nightmare is unfolding before our eyes”, he warned, with no clear idea of when President Vladimir V. Putin will end his war of choice against the country. Thanking those neighbouring Governments who have opened their borders, he stressed that refugees are refugees, regardless of race and creed. Those who remain face cash and fuel constraints affecting all aid delivery. The spectre of hunger also looms, with the World Food Programme (WFP) noting that the impact of the crisis will be felt far beyond Ukraine. An estimated 283 million people in 80 countries are food insecure and this conflict will only exacerbate that situation. Expressing grave concern over reports of damage to apartment buildings, schools and hospitals, as well as to bridges and roads damaged by shelling, he noted the United States is providing nearly $54 million in additional aid to Ukraine, with much more coming. “No matter what happens next, we must do everything — everything — we can do to help the people of Ukraine,” he said.
JIM KELLY (Ireland) said that the Russian Federation’s unprovoked and unjustified further invasion of Ukraine has created a humanitarian catastrophe, compounding the suffering of millions with a rapidly rising toll of internally displaced persons and refugees in need of humanitarian assistance. “Millions of people in Ukraine are grappling with the humanitarian consequences of a war not of their making,” he said, underscoring that innocent civilians, including children, are paying the terrible price of conflict. Any armed attack on and threat against nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful purposes constitutes a violation of international law, including the principles of the United Nations Charter, Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Statute. He expressed great concern regarding the deployment of weapons and armaments and the conducting of missile strikes directly from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Ireland and its European Union partners are providing significant humanitarian support and stand ready to do more. “When conflicts rage, unpredictable, even barely conceivable outcomes can become all too real,” he said, warning that “threats to unleash forces that cannot be controlled, including threats of nuclear weapons, are utterly unacceptable”. He urged the Russian Federation to turn away from war and choose the path of dialogue and diplomacy.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said that her country is stepping up its support to the civilian population and will provide $226 million to the humanitarian response. The Russian Federation alone bears the sole responsibility for this humanitarian crisis through its unprovoked military aggression, which violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The parties must comply with their obligations under international law and ensure the protection of the civilian population in all of Ukraine. She called on parties to protect all humanitarian personnel and ensure safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian access to those in need. Fighting is going on in and around urban areas with the use of heavy explosive weapons, she said, expressing her concern about the long-term harm to civilians, especially children, as well as to civilian infrastructure. She also expressed her deep concern over the reported use of cluster munitions. Explosive remnants of war will continue after the conflict ends. She demanded the unconditional withdrawal of Russian Federation troops from Ukraine and called for respect of international law.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said the Russian Federation’s unprovoked aggression is causing a crisis unseen in Europe in decades, underlining those conflicts equal innocent victims and destruction. “Those who initiate conflicts do know this,” he stressed, highlighting the staggering numbers of people fleeing in a matter of days. International law is clear that targeting civilian and infrastructure constitutes serious crimes. He expressed support for the ongoing strong presence of United Nations agencies and their partners on the ground, as well as for safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian workers. Albania is happy to shelter Ukrainians fleeing the crisis, he said, adding that his country has joined European Union sanctions and has closed its airspace to Russian Federation planes except for emergency flights. “What is happening in Ukraine should not happen anywhere,” he said.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) welcomed the commencement of direct talks between the parties, as differences can only be bridged by sustained diplomacy. Citing the urgent and unprecedented emergency situation, he stressed that the core principles of humanitarian assistance must be honoured. His Government will provide urgent supplies, including medical aid. Expressing deep concern over the safety of thousands of Indian nationals stranded in Ukraine, including students, he said that senior Indian Government ministers have been deployed to neighbouring countries and stand ready to help his country’s citizens, as well as those of neighbouring countries and developing countries who are also stranded in Ukraine and might be seeking assistance. He expressed support for the appointment by the Secretary‑General of Amin Awad of Sudan as United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, to lead the coordination of all United Nations efforts, including the humanitarian response, on both sides of the contact line.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) said that, as a result of President Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, that country of 44 million people has been brought to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe. Despite the Russian Federation’s claims, the international community can see indiscriminate attacks against men, women and children across Ukraine and the Russian Federation’s disregard for international humanitarian law. Missiles have rained down on Kharkiv, cluster munitions have hit residential areas and there has been disruption to supply chains causing food shortages in Kramatorsk. Violence in Kyiv has forced people to seek refuge underground, with many thousands, including the elderly and disabled unable to evacuate. Whether or not the Russian Federation delegate may try to paint the United Nations reporting as hysteria, half a million people have already fled to Poland, Hungary, Romania, Republic of Moldova and other countries, with 7 million displaced and United Nations agencies and humanitarian partners forced to suspend operations. Yesterday’s announcement of $54 million in United Kingdom aid to Ukraine brings the total amount pledged this year to $190 million, with a guarantee of up to $500 million of loans to Ukraine through multilateral development banks and United Kingdom humanitarian experts deployed to the region to support those fleeing the violence. As a humanitarian response is not enough to save the Ukrainian people from the disaster inflicted on them, she called “once again, for the sake of humanity”, for President Putin to stop this war and withdraw his forces from Ukraine.
CAROLYN ABENA ANIMA OPPONG-NTIRI (Ghana) expressed her concern over the unfolding humanitarian situation. The indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas have spread fear and panic among the population, who have been forced to take shelter in subways. As well, more than half a million have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries as refugees. She called on the parties to grant unfettered access to humanitarian agencies and guarantee their safety. She also called for the parties to guarantee safe passage to civilians seeking to leave Ukraine. She urged the parties to assert the path of peace and seek an early resolution through dialogue and diplomacy.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said that his Government does not want a war against a United Nations Member State. He expressed his concern over attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, and called on the belligerents to refrain from using weapons whose attacks would be indiscriminate. Humanitarian assistance should be supplied to the population in need without discrimination or hinderance. While commending the generosity of neighbouring countries to those who are fleeing the war, he also expressed alarm over the situation of African students fleeing Ukraine who have encountered discrimination as they flee and seek refuge. Commenting on several reports he has received in this regard, he stressed that such racism is unacceptable. The distress of the people can only stop when the hostilities stop, he emphasized, appealing for an immediate ceasefire and de-escalation.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates), highlighting the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the hundreds of thousands of people suffering, due to lack of essential services and destruction of infrastructure, said his Government is looking into providing supplies, including medical equipment, based on its consistent efforts to alleviate civilian suffering. He reiterated the need for a ceasefire and a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Continued fighting will lead to further worsening of the humanitarian situation, exacerbated by the extreme temperatures this winter, as civilians seek refuge and safe havens. Urging all parties to implement their obligations under international law, including by allowing humanitarian aid to reach those in need and to refrain from targeting civilians, he underlined the need to comply with the principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations, especially with respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of States. These principles apply to all Member States, regardless of their resources, capabilities or geographical size.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) expressed his Government’s solidarity to all families who have lost someone in this war, to all those left without a home, water and electricity, to those who are fleeing in fear and to everyone who is trapped in a conflict zone, desperately attempting to find refuge. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have already fled Ukraine and many more will certainly follow, perhaps millions. He called on all parties to fully respect international humanitarian law and uphold the principles of distinction, proportionality, precaution, necessity and humanity. It is of paramount import to ensure the protection of civilians and of critical civilian infrastructure, as well as to ensure unhindered humanitarian access to all those in need and the protection of refugees and displaced persons. Beyond any discussions in the Security Council on the reasons for this war, the international community must come together to adopt measures to minimize the humanitarian impact of the conflict. Noting that the Russian Federation has placed its nuclear forces on high alert, he stressed that the use of these is contrary to international law. Any use of nuclear weapons would have unacceptable humanitarian consequences in Ukraine and beyond, he said.
ZHANG JUN (China) underscored that what is unfolding is heart-wrenching, calling on all parties to exercise restraint. The safety and security of life and property of all civilians, including foreign nationals must be ensured. He emphasized that the United Nations and the international community must provide humanitarian assistance in the spirit of neutrality and impartiality, to avoid politicizing the process. Stressing it is crucial to return to the diplomatic track and promote de-escalation, he expressed support for direct dialogue between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, with any Council action placing it in a better position to play a productive role rather than leading to further escalation.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, noting that the situation in Ukraine gives rise to serious concern for the ordinary people “who ended up being held hostage by the Ukrainian radicals and nationalists that are clinging to power at any price”. In those territories under the control of the Russian armed forces, people are not undergoing humanitarian issues. The local authorities, after the radicals have left, are providing all the necessary services to the people. Issues only remain in those towns where the Ukrainian authorities issued an irresponsible order to distribute arms to anyone who wants it, including to criminals who were let out of prisons for this purpose. This resulted in mass killings, robberies and looting. Further, there are many instances where, later on, the victims of looters were “shamelessly presented as having perished at the hands of the so-called Russian infiltrators”.
Addressing the people in Kyiv held by the radicals as human shields, he said that the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defence has confirmed that all peaceful citizens of Kyiv can leave the capital of Ukraine via the Kyiv-Vasilkov highway. “This road is open and safe,” he said. “The special military operation conducted by the Russian armed forces does not have the goal of occupying Ukraine or harming the local population,” he continued, noting that its aim is the demilitarization of the country, which is crammed with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) weapons. It is also aimed at protecting the long-suffering people in Donbas and Ukraine. The special operation conducted by the Russian Federation does not impact civilian infrastructure. Over five days, there has not been a single documented case of targeted destruction and no evidence of the death of civilians caused by the Russian military. The opposite is constantly being claimed. He cautioned that “dirty lies replicated in Western mass media very unfortunately have become a dangerous mark of our times”. In the meeting today, delegates were told of the bombings of residential areas, hospitals, schools and kindergartens. However, it is Ukrainian radicals who are placing their attack weaponry in residential areas in direct violation of international humanitarian law. He asked Mr. Griffiths and Mr. Grandi to comment.
In 2014, the Russian Federation extended assistance to the peaceful people in Donbas, who were encountering relentless shelling by the Ukrainian army, he continued. Even today, not a single Western colleague has mentioned the citizens of Donbas and their suffering for eight years. The Russian Federation currently has 110,000 refugees from Donbas who had to leave their homes a week ago when Kyiv tried to resolve the Donbas issue militarily, in violation of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements. The blame also lies with Western partners who pumped Ukraine full of weapons. Since the beginning of 2014, about 3 million Ukrainian citizens have left for the Russian Federation. “Russia did not start the war; it is trying to end it,” he said, adding that Ukraine started the war in 2014. Noting the comment by the delegate of France who said sanctions do not violate international law, he pointed out that this is a duplicitous statement that has been heard before in the context of other countries. On the draft resolution that will be drafted by France and Mexico, he said that his delegation needs to study the text carefully before it issues any assessment.
SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine) said every new day of the Russian Federation’s unprovoked war against Ukraine increases human suffering. Welcoming the appointment of Amin Awad of Sudan as Assistant Secretary-General to serve as United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, he noted that job will be difficult during Russian Federation activities, which have been equated to war crimes. This is not only a security crisis, but a humanitarian crisis, and is not just a violation of international law, but a violation of the conscience of the world, he said. He called on the international community for humanitarian assistance, and to register all cases of violations of international law and international humanitarian law. According to latest reports from his Government, this is the most horrible large-scale invasion since the Second World War, with the shelling of Kharkiv and with Kyiv now sitting within Russian crosshairs. Over 352 people have been killed, including 16 children, with 2040 wounded.
He went on to say that the Russian Federation has attacked kindergartens, orphanages and hospitals, firing on mobile aid brigades and ambulance crews. “This is not the action of a State with legitimate security concerns,” he stressed, adding: "There is no debate; these are war crimes.” None of the facilities cited are legitimate military targets. He welcomed the statement from the International Criminal Court Prosecutor about the decision to proceed with opening an investigation regarding possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. Russian Federation military aggression kills not only Ukrainians, but thousands of foreigners, he pointed out, noting that his Government is doing its best to ensure their safety. He cautioned the Security Council to not be misled by Russian disinformation of alleged racial discrimination in refugee contexts. If there have been cases, they will be investigated. He also highlighted that children have been crossing borders without their parents and that 350,000 schoolchildren have no access to education.
While it is urgent to agree on humanitarian corridors for civilians, he noted that, in regard to Russian assurances of security, “Russian words often do not match their deeds”. Those corridors may be easy military targets. Noting that the Council has heard the lies from the Russian side, he appealed to the 15‑nation organ: “Do not listen to Russian lies; listen to Ukrainian cries.” Citing the Russian Federation delegate’s earlier comment about the United States expulsion of 12 parties from their mission, he described them as a dozen spies who will no longer enjoy the benefits of American life. Meanwhile, he was looking forward to midnight, despite it being the most dangerous time in Ukraine, because it will mark the end of the abomination of the Russian Federation presidency of the Security Council, he said.
Mr. GRIFFITHS, responding to the question by the Russian Federation delegate on the placement of heavy weaponry, said there is no confirmation of such reports of radicals placing such weaponry in residential areas. Accountability at this stage for breaches of international law — at this level of the conflict, at this level of the violence and at this level of the uncertainty — are very difficult to establish. “We are truly in a period of a fog of war, a fog that obscures the futures of so many people of Ukraine,” he said. He stressed that he had made a number of points in his briefing about fears of the impact on civilian objects and infrastructure as the result of urban warfare. He reiterated that large-scale urban warfare also requires the need to avoid the wide area of explosive weapons. He expressed his concern over what is being seen in the streets of some of the key large, modern cities in Ukraine and the way in which the people are voting with their feet, the way in which basic services are being interrupted and the way in which civilian infrastructure is being damaged. It will be discovered “who did what and who broke which requirements of international humanitarian law”, he said.
Mr. GRANDI, saying that he did not wish to take the floor, expressed his support for the comments made by the Under-Secretary-General.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), speaking in his national capacity, took the floor a second time and pointed out that, of all the reports, videos and information on Ukraine, some are taken as fact while others — unquestionably reliable — are being considered inaccurate, unreliable and unverifiable. He said he would have to draw lessons from that, and he expected that the United Nations leadership would share how the Ukrainian activities will be considered.
As it was the last scheduled meeting for the Russian Federation’s Council presidency in February, he expressed the appreciation of his delegation to the members of the Council and the secretariat for all their support. “It was a busy month, we managed to get consensus on many issues within our purview, although, as you know, not every one,” he said.