Renewed Efforts Critical to Ending Humanitarian Catastrophe in Ukraine, Emergency Relief Coordinator Calls Tells Security Council
Many Delegates Voice Strong Support for Grain Initiative, Demand Russian Federation’s Unconditional Withdrawal from Ukrainian Territory
As the war in Ukraine approaches its one-year anniversary — with profound spillover effects across global food and energy sectors — a critical agreement between the parties to facilitate the safe export of food and fertilizers must be protected and urgently implemented, the United Nations top humanitarian official told the Security Council today, with speakers calling the Black Sea Grain Initiative a rare “beacon of hope against a bleak backdrop”.
The 15-member Council met just weeks before the Initiative — first agreed between the Russian Federation, Türkiye and Ukraine in July 2022 — is slated for renewal.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, called for renewed efforts to end the humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine and address the war’s profound global implications on global food and energy prices and trade and supply chains. Noting that the Black Sea Grain Initiative is currently allowing food exports to continue to reach global supply chains — thereby helping to lower food prices — he said its extension beyond March is critical. Noting that the conflict’s food security impacts are only one part of the crisis, he said: “We have warned [for a year] about the toxic brew of death, destruction, displacement and deprivation that this war has caused.”
Indeed, he noted, the tragedy continues with no end in sight. Some 17.6 million people — almost 40 per cent of Ukraine’s population — are in need of humanitarian assistance, nearly 8 million people have fled to neighbouring countries and 5.3 million others are internally displaced. Homes, schools, hospitals and other critical civilian infrastructure have been destroyed, while entire cities, towns and villages have been heavily damaged. Recalling his own experience witnessing such utter devastation during a visit to the country in December, he said he also witnessed the Ukrainian people’s remarkable drive for survival. “The people of Ukraine have left the whole world in awe of their resilience,” he said.
During the ensuing debate, many delegates voiced their strong support for the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Some simultaneously demanded the Russian Federation’s swift, unilateral and unconditional withdrawal from Ukrainian territory it entered in February 2022. Others still warned against politicizing the export of food, fuel and fertilizer, or voiced concern about the unceasing flow of foreign military supplies into Ukraine. Delegates also conveyed their condolences to the people of Türkiye and Syria on the heels of a devastating earthquake in the region.
The representative of the United States, noting that millions of Ukrainians are without food, power, water and heat even as temperatures drop below freezing, underscored that the Russian Federation must cease bombing critical infrastructure and killing innocent civilians. Expressing support for the Black Sea Grain Initiative — which has helped meet the urgent needs of the world’s most vulnerable by stabilizing global grain prices — she nevertheless voiced concern that the movement of grain from Ukrainian ports has slowed due to a growing backlog of ships waiting for grain. The global community cannot allow the Russian Federation to continue weaponizing food, energy and winter, “which hurts us all but is killing Ukrainians”, she added.
The representative of Denmark, speaking for the Nordic countries, echoed concerns over the war’s negative consequences on global food prices and highlighted the importance of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. He also expressed alarm that the conflict’s food security implications could reach far into the future, noting that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently reported that severe war-induced impacts in Ukraine may reduce winter wheat area plantings by about 40 per cent. As the Initiative’s renewal date approaches, it is of utmost importance that it be extended smoothly, he said.
The Russian Federation’s representative, noting that Western colleagues have presented his country’s actions in Ukraine in the worst possible light, said efforts to achieve peace would have been more successful if Ukrainian nationalists and Nazis had not violated international humanitarian law, using their own civilians as human shields. While contributions to United Nations agencies are declining, money for supplying arms to Ukraine is hitting new heights, he said, noting that Western countries failed to react when an American multiple rocket launcher was used to deliberately target a hospital, killing 14 people. Such crimes do not serve Europe, he stressed, adding that Western countries have only demonstrated selective blindness and made “hackneyed utterances about Russian propaganda”.
The representative of Ukraine, meanwhile, stressed that civilians — especially women and children — remain most at risk in the Russian Federation’s inhumane war against his country. Noting that more than 77,000 civilian infrastructure facilities have been attacked over the course of the conflict, he went on to echo expressions of concern over the war’s broader impacts. “By turning fertile Ukrainian soil into minefields, Russia is further aggravating the global food security crisis,” he said, warning that the Black Sea Grain Initiative faces serious impediments from the Russian side. Indeed, 114 vessels were waiting for inspection by the Russian Federation in Türkiye’s territorial waters at the start of 2023, but Moscow has only further curtailed its inspections.
Italy’s delegate, emphasizing that the Russian Federation will be held accountable for its crimes in Ukraine, echoed expressions of support for the Black Sea Initiative and called on Moscow to avoid any politicization of this “beacon of hope”. Similarly, Italy is also funding the initiative “Grain from Ukraine” — launched by Kyiv — to provide vital food directly to the most vulnerable countries, especially in Africa.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates, drawing attention to the “appalling” humanitarian statistics resulting from the conflict in Ukraine, agreed with other speakers that needs are likely to increase even further amid freezing weather conditions and severely damaged electricity and heating infrastructure. “It is, therefore, all the more necessary to continue support for the response by Ukraine’s neighbours, the United Nations, donor countries and humanitarian actors,” she said, praising humanitarian workers. She reaffirmed the importance of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, strongly urging its swift reauthorization and encouraging the removal of any obstacles.
The representative of China was among those speakers who expressed concern that no diplomatic solution has yet been found to end the conflict in Ukraine. Spotlighting the large number of heavy weapons pouring into the battlefields, he said the relevant parties have failed to demonstrate sincerity or determination in resolving the issue politically. Against that backdrop, the international community must try every avenue of enabling peace talks.
Also speaking were the representatives of France, Ecuador, Gabon, Brazil, United Kingdom, Albania, Japan, Mozambique, Switzerland, Ghana, Malta, Estonia (on behalf of the Baltic States), Poland and Germany.
The representative of the European Union delegation also participated in its capacity as observer.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 12:26 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said officials have now been briefing the Security Council about the situation in Ukraine for nearly a year. “We have warned about the toxic brew of death, destruction, displacement and deprivation that this war has caused,” he said, also drawing attention to its deadly toll on civilians and the psychological trauma it has inflicted. The tragedy continues to unfold with no end in sight, with 17.6 million people — almost 40 per cent of Ukraine’s population — in need of humanitarian assistance. According to the United Nations, more than 7,000 civilians have been confirmed killed, he added, noting that the actual death toll is likely much higher.
Meanwhile, he said, almost 8 million people have fled to neighbouring countries and some 5.3 million others have become internally displaced, many seeking shelter in collective centres. “Countless numbers of people have hunkered down in basements for days and weeks on end, to seek protection from bombs,” he said. Homes, schools, hospitals and other critical civilian infrastructure have been destroyed, while entire cities, towns and villages have been heavily damaged. Stressing that the violence shows no sign of abating, he said in recent days air strikes hit hospitals on both sides of the front line, causing death and injury among dozens of civilians.
Recalling his own experience witnessing such utter devastation during a visit to the country in December, he said he also witnessed the Ukrainian people’s remarkable drive for survival. For example, bakeries led by women were continuing to operate at reduced capacity, producing thousands of loaves daily for people in the town of Kherson and across the Mykolaiv Oblasts. Volunteers, municipality employees and others work hand in hand with humanitarian partners to help those in need. “The people of Ukraine have left the whole world in awe of their resilience,” he said. All that despite the daily violence, power cuts, landmines and explosive remnants of war, sexual violence and other abuses.
Emphasizing that the humanitarian community is doing its best to respond, he said the United Nations and its partners have provided 15.8 million people with assistance, including more than 1.3 million people in areas outside the control of the Government of Ukraine. They have delivered winter clothes, heating appliances, generators, water pump equipment, solid fuel and building materials. Life-saving aid has been delivered to villages near the front line in rural parts and in close cooperation with regional partners. Operations have expanded exponentially in the past year, he said, noting that the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine — which will be launched later in February — requires $3.9 billion to reach more than 11 million people.
In areas under the temporary military control of the Russian Federation, he continued, humanitarian access has become increasingly unpredictable and impeded. Despite repeated attempts and negotiations, no inter-agency humanitarian convoy has been able to cross between the two areas. Emphasizing that sparing civilians and allowing rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access are among the most basic rules of war, he declared: “We must continue to staunchly advocate from all angles.” Efforts are needed to end the humanitarian catastrophe and address this war’s profound global implications on global food and energy prices, trade and supply chains, and nuclear safety. The critical Black Sea Grain Initiative is allowing food exports to continue to reach global supply chains, helping to lower food prices, and its extension beyond March is critical. He also pledged that the United Nations will continue to press for the facilitation of food and fertilizer exports from the Russian Federation, as part of broader efforts to address food security.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), noting that the Russian Federation continues its attacks on civilian infrastructure — including a strike on Odessa while the French Minister for Foreign Affairs was present — condemned the systematic targeting of such infrastructure as war crimes. The world will soon mark one year of suffering for Ukrainian men and women, and it is “high time for this to end”, he stressed. Moscow banked on winter to ensure the Ukrainian people caved as it sought to deprive them of heating, electricity and water, but this strategy cannot be allowed to succeed. Underscoring that “the people of Ukraine are not alone”, he said that France will continue to stand beside them in support of their legitimate defence. To that end, Paris remains fully mobilized, and has sent 63 high-powered generators and 5 million light-emitting diode bulbs that will arrive by mid-February. He went on to observe that the consequences of the Russian Federation’s aggression go beyond the borders of Ukraine, spotlighting the global food insecurity caused by the war and urging Moscow not to prevent the renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on 19 March. He added that France “will never accept a world where force is more important than the law”.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador), expressing alarm about the horrific humanitarian panorama, urban warfare and increasing number of refugees, noted that the Russian Federation repeatedly broke pledges that they would not carry out military attacks. Highlighting the situation of women and girls who are exposed to violence and abuse, he said the military aggression has enabled criminal organizations to take advantage of the precarious situation, leading to increased human trafficking. With bombings contaminating the fertile soil of Ukraine, which is critical to global food security, 9 million people in that country are in need of humanitarian assistance while 16 million are in need of water. Noting that Ecuador’s entire population is 17 million, he said the entire population of his country could be in the condition that a large number of Ukrainians are in. Civilian resilience must be a priority for the United Nations, he said, stressing that the best way to honour the victims of the “absurd tragedy” is to put an end to the military aggression.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said humanitarian personnel have shown great courage over the course of the “murderous conflict” that has shaken the entire international system during the last 12 months. Paying tribute to the valiant humanitarians who — at the risk of their lives — are able to keep hope alive, he called again on the belligerents to strictly respect international law by allowing unimpeded access to people in need of humanitarian aid. The parties must strictly respect their international commitments relating to the protection of civilians and in particular children, women and vulnerable persons, and refrain from any attack targeting civilian infrastructure. He went on to note that forecasts for Ukraine’s reconstruction needs have gone from $350 billion to $700 billion, according to most recent assessments. He also spotlighted the war’s ongoing impacts on countries across the world, declaring: “It is time to consider the end of this war, to stop the flow of death and destruction.”
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil), commending the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the professionalism with which it has conducted operations in Ukraine, welcomed the arrival, in January, of the first humanitarian convoy to the Soledar region, one of the hardest hit by the fighting. Reiterating condemnation of attacks against civilian targets, he stressed that there must be no politicization of humanitarian assistance. Expressing alarm about the launching of a new military offensive at the same time that the shipment of weapons and ammunition to the region intensifies, he said the use of anti-personnel mines will leave lasting consequences that will have to be dealt with by Ukrainians long after the war is over. The logic of a military solution to the conflict still prevails between the parties, he noted, adding that the lack of willingness in the 1990s and 2000s to create a sustainable European security architecture was “a ticking time bomb”. Noting that the transfers of arms and ammunition dominate the public debate on the conflict, he stressed that the Council and regional actors must prioritize the immediate cessation of hostilities.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), noting that a “staggering” 17.6 million people require humanitarian assistance in 2023, said that ongoing insecurity across front lines has prevented humanitarian organizations from establishing a sustained presence and access to those who need it most. While her country supports neutral, impartial humanitarian action in Ukraine, there is limited access for humanitarian organizations in territory controlled by the Russian Federation. The systematic denial of humanitarian access must end, as this behaviour is consistent with Moscow’s actions throughout the war — including the deliberate, callous targeting of civilian infrastructure and the instrumentalization of access to food and energy. While the Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped increase vital supplies and reduce global food prices — and global demand for Ukraine’s grain remains strong — in recent weeks, the Russian Federation’s inspection of ships has slowed, the backlog of waiting ships has increased, and exports under the Initiative have decreased. She, therefore, joined others in calling on Moscow to fulfil its commitments to facilitate the unimpeded export of food from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports by renewing the Initiative and scaling-up inspections at a rate that better meets global demands.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), noting that Odessa, newly inscribed in the World Heritage list, finds itself in darkness, said the barrages of missiles and drone attacks have become “the Russian signature punishment”. Dismissing claims that the Russian Federation’s forces do not attack civilians, he said humanitarian workers and human rights activists on the ground are witnessing the opposite. Highlighting the impact of the war on children, he said millions cannot attend school, expressing concern that children are going hungry and are at increased risk of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Children in Ukraine don’t go to sleep with bedtime stories, he said, adding that instead they are traumatized by the sounds of sirens announcing shelling. Further, the economic downturn caused by the war has increased child poverty across Europe and Central Asia by at least 19 per cent. The Russian Federation itself has experienced the most significant increase in the number of children living in poverty during this time, he pointed out. The international community must not give in to fatigue from continued exposure to endless human suffering, he said.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) said it is regrettable that his country must, once again, condemn in the strongest terms what the majority of the United Nations membership has already condemned — the Russian Federation’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Noting that attacks on civilians during that conflict may constitute war crimes, he called upon all parties to strictly respect international humanitarian law and stressed that there can be no impunity for war crimes and other atrocities, including sexual and gender-based crimes. Commending the Black Sea Grain Initiative, he urged the parties — especially the Russian Federation — to continue to engage in it without any obstructions. Tokyo has so far provided $1.5 billion in humanitarian, financial and food-related aid, including winterization support to Ukraine and other affected countries, and it has warmly accepted people fleeing the country into Japan. It will continue to provide assistance including in the areas of mine action, electricity, and the rebuilding of schools and hospitals, he said, also welcoming recent efforts by the countries concerned to coordinate their support to Ukraine in a more comprehensive manner.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique) said that, as in every conflict situation, women and children are the greatest victims, urging the international community to extend much-needed humanitarian assistance to the suffering people of Ukraine. He expressed regret that, day after day, “the logic of war has been escalating” and the prospects for a negotiated settlement have dimmed. He, therefore, called on the parties in conflict to negotiate a solution to this tragic situation, pointing out that Council members — mandated to maintain international peace and security — are obliged by the Charter of the United Nations to cooperate and support efforts towards this end. He went on to point out that his country knows from experience “the heavy costs of war” and that long, protracted conflicts in Africa and elsewhere have shown that humanitarian problems can only be solved politically. As such, he called on the parties to show restraint and engage in frank, constructive dialogue conducive to a negotiated, lasting settlement of the conflict. He added an appeal for the parties to bear in mind and comply with their obligations under international law.
DAI BING (China), expressing concern that the logic of the military solution still prevails, noted that a large number of heavy weapons keep pouring into the battlefields. The relevant parties have failed to demonstrate sincerity or the determination to resolve the issue politically, he said, adding that the international community must try every possible way to enable peace talks. Stressing the importance of respecting life, refraining from attacking civilians and civilian facilities and ensuring smooth delivery of humanitarian relief, he expressed appreciation for the international humanitarian agencies and neighbouring countries. Underscoring the importance of ensuring the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine, he cautioned that any accident could result in a grave humanitarian and ecological catastrophe. Highlighting the importance of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, he said the United Nations must play a bigger coordinating role in ensuring food security.
PASCALE BAERISWYL (Switzerland) said the Emergency Relief Coordinator’s remarks underscore the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis emanating from the conflict in Ukraine, as well as serious violations of international law and a heavy toll on civilians. Noting that the most vulnerable have been particularly affected, she said attacks on civilian infrastructure are further worsening the situation. International humanitarian and human rights law must always be respected, she stressed, adding that Switzerland is particularly dismayed by the Russian Federation’s indiscriminate attacks on energy infrastructure in the midst of winter. She reiterated calls on Moscow to immediately de-escalate, cease all combat operations and withdraw its troops from the entire Ukrainian territory without delay. Those responsible for the aggression and all crimes committed must also be brought to justice, she said, while pledging Switzerland’s support to the affected population. Her country is delivering winterization aid and supports efforts to move forward with reconstruction efforts, in line with the Lugano Principles, she said.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said that peace efforts in Ukraine must be “anchored on the realities of the millions of Ukrainians impacted by the war”, reiterating that the warring parties are obliged to preserve lives and uphold human dignity “amidst the irrationality of war”. He urged all parties to grant unimpeded humanitarian access and refrain from further targeted missile attacks on residential facilities, energy installations and other civilian infrastructure. He went on to stress that the impact of violent conflicts on children is “an indictment on the promise of the United Nations to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. The future of Ukraine’s children is dependent on the actions the Council takes today, and that organ must spare no effort to end the war and restore the promise of a peaceful tomorrow. On the reports of gross violations of international human rights law — including conflict-related sexual abuse, human trafficking, filtration processes, torture and summary killings — he said that accountability must be established through the thorough, transparent and independent investigation of all claims. Reiterating his country’s call for the Russian Federation to immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, he also urged Moscow to conform its actions to the principles of international law and the core values of the Charter of the United Nations.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), noting that Western colleagues have presented his country’s actions in Ukraine in the worst possible light, said painting such a black-and-white picture is getting difficult because it is increasingly clear that Ukrainian civilians would have long stopped suffering if the Kyiv regime and its Western masters wanted peace. Washington, D.C., and London prevented the Ukrainians from establishing realistic conditions for peace, he said, adding that efforts to find peace would have been more successful if Ukrainian nationalists and Nazis had not violated international humanitarian law using their own civilians as human shields. The Ukrainian army committed crimes against the inhabitants of Donbass and other territories that became part of his country following the referendum in September 2022, he said. When an American multiple rocket launcher was used to deliberately target a hospital, killing 14 people, he said, there was no reaction to that crime from Western countries. Noting various artillery strikes by the Kyiv regime, he said the Ukrainian army is deliberately striking not only civilian infrastructure, but also infrastructure that ensures the well-being of children. His country regularly sends data to the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, he said, condemning the lack of reaction by the United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, who are providing long-range artillery and missile systems to Ukraine.
Noting that his country will be convening another meeting of the Security Council on this matter, he said that, during the meeting organized on 20 January on the shelling in Donbass, Western countries demonstrated selective blindness and made “hackneyed utterances about Russian propaganda”. International human rights organizations cannot help but pay attention to Kyiv’s crimes, he said, adding that a recent Human Rights Watch report said that Ukraine is using banned anti-personnel “butterfly” mines against civilians in Donbass. Highlighting a recent Ukrainian missile strike that hit an oil pipeline, he added that that huge system supplies not only Russian Federation oil, but also Kazakh oil. Such crimes do not serve Europe, he said, adding that Ukrainian prisoners of war have made ghastly accounts about their conditions of service. Ukrainians are being used as cannon fodder, he said, adding that many want to continue to stay in his country. While contributions to United Nations agencies are declining, money for supplying arms to Ukraine is hitting new heights, he said, recalling the words of a European Parliament member from Poland who described the possibility of free and independent States in the post-Russian Federation area. Such words are being repeated in a number of East European capitals, he said, condemning this desire to see his country collapse.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), drawing attention to the “appalling” humanitarian statistics resulting from the conflict in Ukraine, said needs are likely to increase even further amid freezing weather conditions and severely damaged electricity and heating infrastructure. “It is therefore all the more necessary to continue support for the response by Ukraine’s neighbours, the United Nations, donor countries and humanitarian actors,” she said, praising humanitarian workers and calling urgently for their protection. Citing the war’s impact beyond Ukraine’s borders, she affirmed the importance of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and the memorandum of understanding between the Russian Federation and the United Nations to facilitate the export of fertilizers, strongly urging the former’s swift reauthorization and encouraging the removal of any obstacles. The United Arab Emirates is delivering $100 million in assistance and remains in close contact with Ukraine on support for post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction, she said, emphasizing that there is no alternative to a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), noting that millions of Ukrainians are without food, power, water and heat, even as temperatures drop below freezing, underscored that the Russian Federation must cease bombing critical infrastructure and killing innocent civilians. Until Moscow does so, global humanitarian donors must stand by Ukraine’s people and prioritize winterization assistance to address immediate humanitarian needs. Further, humanitarian workers must be allowed to access those in need unimpeded and unharmed. She went on to stress that the Russian Federation’s extensive relocation of Ukrainian children must end. Noting that the Russian Federation’s war has exacerbated the global food-security crisis, she supported the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has helped meet the urgent needs of the world’s most vulnerable and has benefitted middle-income countries by stabilizing global grain prices. However, because of Moscow’s actions, movement of grain from Ukrainian ports has slowed and the backlog of ships waiting for grain is growing. She underscored that the Russian Federation signed an agreement with the United Nations, calling on Moscow to fulfil its commitments and allow the Initiative to work at a pace that meets global demand. She added that the international community cannot allow the Russian Federation to continue weaponizing food, energy and winter, “which hurts us all, but is killing Ukrainians”.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta), Council President for February, spoke in her national capacity, noting that constant attacks by the Russian Federation against Ukraine’s energy and civilian infrastructure continue to disrupt power supplies, leaving millions of Ukrainians without electricity, water and heat as temperatures plunge below 0°C. “These attacks, and the widescale blackouts they cause, are a blatant violation of international humanitarian law,” she said, adding that so, too, is Moscow’s use of indiscriminate munitions in populated areas. Civilians are being actively targeted, and children have not been spared, she said, spotlighting the thousands of Ukrainian boys and girls abducted, deported and forcibly adopted to the Russian Federation. Calling for an end to the cycle of violence and horror, she added that all those in need of humanitarian aid must have access to it. She voiced regret that insecurity and obstacles continue to restrict humanitarian access along the front lines and in areas which are not under Ukrainian control and deplored that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) still lacks access to all Ukrainian prisoners of war, as allowed under the third Geneva Convention. She also joined other speakers in calling on Moscow to end its “senseless war”, withdraw its military forces from the entire territory of Ukraine and turn to the path of dialogue and diplomacy.
SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine) said civilians — especially women and children — remain most at risk in the Russian Federation’s inhumane war against his country. Recalling that Moscow’s deliberate attack against a civilian apartment building in Dnipro was the subject of a 17 January Security Council meeting, he outlined additional similar attacks since that date — including a strike against a multistorey residential building in the city of Kramatorsk — and said that, overall, more than 77,000 civilian infrastructure facilities have been attacked over the course of the conflict. Also spotlighting the detrimental impact of frequent air-raid sirens — which force schools to close and civilians to seek shelter, disrupting normal life — he said Russian Federation forces have left the areas they have fled heavily mined. In the east of Ukraine, the situation is even worse, but the full picture will only be clear after liberation. Ukraine continues to fulfil all of its international obligations in line with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, even as the Russian Federation continues its unabated attacks. For example, Ukraine has defused some 3 million antipersonnel mines, even as Moscow continues to employ a range of mines banned under international law.
“By turning fertile Ukrainian soil into minefields, Russia is further aggravating the global food security crisis,” he continued, reiterating that not a single Ukrainian warship is blocking the Russian Federation’s commodity flows, as some have accused. Even the Black Sea Grain Initiative faces serious impediments from the Russian Federation side. Pointing out that 114 vessels were waiting for inspection by the Russian Federation in Türkiye’s territorial waters at the start of 2023, he said Moscow has nonetheless continued to curtail its inspections. He welcomed recent prisoner of war exchanges but said that thousands of Ukrainian prisoners of war nonetheless remain held in conditions marked by torture, poor treatment, lack of water and food, and inadequate health care and sanitation, which have been documented by the United Nations. He also called on the global community to pay more attention to the more than 16,000 forcibly deported Ukrainian children. Ukraine’s proposed 10-point peace plan is designed to fully resolve the conflict in line with the principles of the Charter, he said, thanking those delegations that have responded positively to it.
REIN TAMMSAAR (Estonia), also speaking for Latvia and Lithuania, said that “it is hard to overstate” the humanitarian toll the “full-scale” war of aggression waged by the Russian Federation, aided by Belarus, against Ukraine has had on that country’s people. The invasion’s effect on Ukrainian children has been especially appalling, as thousands of them have been separated from their families and deported to the Russian Federation from the occupied territories of Ukraine. Echoing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, he stressed that giving nationality and opening avenues for formal adoption in a conflict situation violates international norms and practices. The Russian Federation must cease these illegal practices immediately and ensure that these children are safely returned to Ukraine. Further, the risks of sexual violence and human trafficking to which unaccompanied, displaced children are exposed are troubling. Credible allegations indicate that rape is being used as a weapon of war by Russian forces in Ukraine — including against children — and he underlined the need for the United Nations to continue monitoring and reporting on conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine.
He went on to express concern over the reported mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners of war by Russian armed forces and the Wagner Group, demanding that the Russian Federation cease these illegal acts and treat such prisoners in full conformity with international humanitarian law. Further, the Russian Federation must provide ICRC with immediate, unconditional access to all Ukrainian prisoners of war. He also underlined the need to continue documenting and properly storing evidence of all atrocity crimes committed throughout Ukraine, supporting the establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression against that country. That crime unleashed all the war crimes and crimes against humanity that followed, and those who decided to wage this illegal war against Ukraine cannot go unpunished. Expressing hope that 2023 will see the end of this brutal war, he said that the way to peace must be just and based on respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and international law. “If we let this aggression succeed, the global consequences will be much worse,” he added.
MAURIZIO MASSARI (Italy), noting that February marks the end of an entire year since the Russian Federation began its brutal and illegal war of aggression, condemned its inhumane attacks targeting critical infrastructure, in particular energy and water facilities, across Ukraine. “Russia will be held accountable for these crimes and will also have to pay for the reparation of critical infrastructure damaged or destroyed through its brutal war,” he underscored, noting that roughly 40 per cent of the Ukrainian population is in need of humanitarian assistance. Highlighting his country’s contribution to the humanitarian response, he said it is also funding the initiative “Grain from Ukraine”, launched by Kyiv, to provide vital food directly to the most vulnerable countries, especially in Africa. Expressing support for the continuous renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, he called on the Russian Federation to avoid any politicization of this “beacon of hope”. Welcoming President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s initiative for a just peace, he added that Italy remains ready to help Ukraine defend itself.
SILVIO GONZATO, representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said the Russian Federation’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine threatens not only that country, but the entire rules-based international order. Underscoring the importance of upholding international humanitarian law and providing continued humanitarian assistance, he said the Russian Federation’s massive air strikes, often in densely populated areas, are inflicting unmeasurable suffering. The findings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry are shocking, he said, highlighting cases of sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment as a tactic of war. Calling for accountability for the perpetrators of such crimes, he reaffirmed support for the investigations of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Stressing that the Russian Federation must enable full humanitarian access into the temporarily occupied territories, he pointed out that human suffering is not only inflicted through direct attacks, but also by willingly withholding aid from people in need.
Noting that the Russian Federation’s aggression has led to high landmine contamination, he expressed concern about the continued attacks by its armed forces around Ukrainian nuclear sites and the illegal seizure of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The first step towards peace would be for the Russian Federation to immediately cease all hostilities, he said, adding that until then, the Union remains committed to providing the support Ukraine needs to defend its population. Highlighting that country’s initiative for a just peace and President Zelenskyy’s peace formula, he expressed support for the extension and full implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Its prolongation beyond March 2023 is crucial to stabilize prices and allow for the continuous flow of grains, including for humanitarian purposes. The Union is the world’s first provider of food and development assistance, he said, reaffirming the bloc’s commitment to addressing the global food crisis.
KRZYSZTOF MARIA SZCZERSKI (Poland) said that his country has supported Ukraine since the beginning of the war on three fronts — hosting and supporting the biggest community of Ukrainian refugees, operating as a hub for transferring international humanitarian aid via the land border and delivering humanitarian aid to Ukraine directly. In 2022, Poland spent over $9 billion on humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian refugees and is currently working to provide as much support as possible in securing energy supplies for civilians suffering from Moscow’s attacks on critical infrastructure. Detailing such efforts, he said that a special logistics hub was established in Poland in January and that this “rescEU energy hub” facilitates the transport and storage of energy equipment and assistance for Ukraine. He went on to detail his country’s assistance to Ukrainian refugees living in Poland, who enjoy the same public services as other Polish citizens. As for direct humanitarian aid, the Government has constructed temporary modular towns for 20,000 internally displaced persons at an estimated cost of $81 million, opened mobile medical units and financed humanitarian projects in the areas of food, health, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, education and logistics. Adding that Poland is the largest single provider of the Starlink terminals that enable the use of the Internet in Ukraine, he said his country will continue its support “as we believe that this is the only right thing to do”.
ANTJE LEENDERTSE (Germany), aligning herself with the European Union, said the Russian Federation’s massive air strikes, often in densely populated areas, are causing indescribable human suffering. They not only destroy critical civilian infrastructure; they kill innocent men, women, boys and girls and leave others without heating, electricity and water. These facts have been corroborated by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry, she said, stressing that the perpetrators of such crimes must and will be held accountable as soon as possible. Her country will continue its financial, humanitarian, diplomatic and military support to Ukraine for as long as it is needed, she reaffirmed, noting that since the beginning of the war, Germany has welcomed more than 1 million Ukrainian refugees. Thanking the United Nations for its tireless efforts to coordinate the provision of aid in newly liberated areas and areas close to the front line, she expressed concern about the forcible deportations of children into the Russian Federation’s territories. Also noting her country’s financial support for Kyiv’s “Grain from Ukraine” Initiative, she called on the Russian Federation to stop delaying the ship inspections as agreed in the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
MARTIN BILLE HERMANN (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said the unjustified and unprovoked attack by a permanent Council member is in blatant violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations. Meanwhile, the war’s consequences are being felt far and wide. He echoed others in voicing concern over the negative consequences on global food prices and stressing the important contribution of the Black Sea Grain Initiative to global food security. Moscow must respect its obligations as an occupying Power and provide access to humanitarian actors, including through the front line. Meanwhile, all parties must comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. Voicing alarm that the conflict’s food security implications could reach far into the future, he recalled that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently reported that severe war-induced impacts in Ukraine may reduce winter wheat area plantings by about 40 per cent. As the Black Sea Grain Initiative’s renewal date approaches, it is of utmost importance that it be extended smoothly. He went on to underline the critical role of accountability for crimes committed in the context of the aggression, stressing that all reports of atrocities and human rights violations must be properly investigated, and perpetrators held to account.