Briefing Security Council on Ukraine, Under-Secretary-General Notes Significant Increase in Civilian Casualties, Dire Humanitarian Situation
Many Delegates Call for Russian Federation’s Unconditional Withdraw from Ukraine
In a meeting called by the Russian Federation to discuss an attack on a bakery in a region in Ukraine presently under Moscow’s control, many speakers in the Security Council today noted that the tragic loss of civilian lives would have never occurred had it not been for that country invading its smaller neighbour.
Briefing the 15-member organ, Rosemary A. DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs said that, on 3 February, 28 people, including a child, were reportedly killed, while dozens more injured, in the shelling of a building housing a bakery in the town of Lysychansk, in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. Meanwhile, in regions under Ukrainian control, the last few weeks have witnessed intensified Russian strikes, she said, citing attacks resulting in the killing of civilians in Sumy, Donetsk and Kharkiv regions. Last week had witnessed a significant escalation in violence, with more than 570 settlements targeted, mainly in the Zaporizhzhia region, she added.
Citing figures from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which recorded 30,041 civilian casualties from February 2022, she noted that civilian casualties in Ukraine significantly increased in December and January compared with previous months, reversing a trend of decreasing civilian casualties throughout 2023. On the humanitarian front, she pointed out that 14.6 million people — a staggering 40 per cent of the population — needed humanitarian assistance in Ukraine, and called for unrestricted access to the 1.5 million civilians in need of assistance in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine under Russian control.
In the ensuing discussion, many delegates called on the Russian Federation to withdraw from all of Ukraine, voiced concern over the humanitarian impacts of the war and emphasized the need for unhindered humanitarian access during harsh winter conditions, while some other speakers underscored the need to refocus efforts on diplomacy and dialogue.
The delegate of the United States, urging those present to “remember that Russia alone started this war”, asserted that “the Kremlin bears full responsibility for the unconscionable death and destruction brought about as a consequence of [Russian Federation President Vladimir V.] Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine”. While calling for the protection of all civilians on all sides of every conflict, he stated that Kyiv has demonstrated its commitment to fully investigate any allegations of violations or abuses committed by its forces, in contrast to the Russian Federation’s lack of transparency and contempt for international law.
The representative of France, recalling the killing of two French aid workers on 1 February when the Russian Federation deliberately targeted the clearly marked convoy of a Swiss non-governmental organization, said: “The cynicism with which Russia is trying to turn the tables of responsibility escapes no one.” Moscow is, once again, crudely manipulating the Council, he said, pointing out that it was “insulting our intelligence” by convening a meeting amid its daily attacks on civilian populations.
In a similar vein, Japan’s delegate stated that the incident under discussion would not have happened without Moscow’s unprovoked aggression against a sovereign State, stressing: “Russia continues its repeated and useless attempts to make us forget this clear fact.” As a permanent member of the Security Council, the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine is a challenge to the rules and principles of the international community, she said, calling on that country to unconditionally withdraw from Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Russian Federation’s delegate, decrying the missile strike by the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Lysychansk, said: “the Neo-Nazis deliberately waited for the moment when families went out for a walk on a day off”. Military infrastructure was not located in the immediate vicinity of any cases involving attacks by Ukrainian militants, he said, calling on the Council and UN leadership to decisively condemn the rocket attack on Lysychansk and all other terrorist acts of the Kyiv “regime”. As well, he stated that all goals for the “denazification” of Ukraine would be achieved, diplomatically or militarily.
Rounding out the discussion, the representative of Ukraine said that the “boundless cynicism of this regime that persists in inventing new allegations against the country it has fiercely attacked is astounding”. While that delegation was misusing the Council platform, it offered an opportunity to remind members that the Ukrainian city of Lysychansk has been under Russian Federation occupation since July 2022 and awaits its liberation, he said, calling on Moscow to make “the only just decision” and cease its aggression as outlined in General Assembly resolution A/ES-11/L.7 of February 2023.
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THREATS TO INTERNATIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY
ROSEMARY A. DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said that, on Saturday, 3 February, 28 people, including a child, were reportedly killed, while dozens more injured, in the shelling of a building housing a bakery and a restaurant in the town of Lysychansk, in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. Lysychansk is currently under the control of the Russian Federation. In regions under Ukrainian control, the last few weeks have seen a reported intensification of Russian strikes, she said, noting that, on 5 February, four civilians were reportedly killed in Kherson, and one more in the Sumy region, while attacks resulting in civilian casualties were also reported in Donetsk and Kharkiv regions. Last week had witnessed a significant escalation in violence, with more than 570 settlements targeted, mainly in the Zaporizhzhia region, she said, noting that such attacks killed 12 civilians and left 60 others injured.
Today, a two-month-old infant was reportedly killed and his mother wounded when a missile hit a hotel in the village of Zolochiv in Kharkiv region, she went on, noting the devastating impact of such attacks. Since February 2022, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recorded 30,041 civilian casualties, with 10,382 killed, including 579 children, and 19,659 people injured, including 1,285 children. She observed that civilian casualties in Ukraine significantly increased in December and January compared with previous months, reversing a trend of decreasing civilian casualties throughout 2023, pointing to OHCHR figures that verified that 158 civilians were killed and 483 injured in January. All attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure are prohibited under international law; they are unacceptable and must stop immediately.
Turning to humanitarian needs, she recalled that, on 15 January, the United Nations and partners asked donors for a combined $4.2 billion to support war-affected communities in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees and their host communities in the region throughout 2024, pointing out 14.6 million people — a staggering 40 per cent of the population — needed humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. Meanwhile, 6.3 million people have fled the country and remain refugees, mostly across Europe, she added. She went on to call for unrestricted access to civilians in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine under Russian control, where some 1.5 million people need humanitarian assistance. As well, she underscored the need for humanitarian workers to be protected, citing the deaths of two French nationals following a recent attack in Kherson.
While welcoming last week’s successful exchange of hundreds of prisoners of war, both Ukrainian and Russian service members, she reiterated her concern regarding the treatment of the remaining prisoners of war, calling on parties to fulfil their obligations under the Geneva Conventions. She urged the Russian Federation to provide independent international monitors unfettered access to prisoners of war. Recalling the adoption by the General Assembly of resolution A/RES/ES-11/6, calling for increased support for diplomatic efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace in Ukraine, she said that, a year later, the illegal and unjustified war was no closer to ending. “In just over two weeks, we will enter the third year of the war,” she said, stressing: “Only a solution in line with the United Nations Charter, international law and UN General Assembly resolutions will achieve a just and lasting peace.”
The representative of the Russian Federation said the missile strike by the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the city of Lysychansk on 3 February left a two-story café-bakery almost completely destroyed. About 40 people were buried under the rubble and 28 died. “We have no doubt that the target and the timing of the attack were not chosen by chance,” he stated, adding: “the Neo-Nazis deliberately waited for the moment when families went out for a walk on a day off” with a blow delivered from an explosive high-power precision weapon. While noting the Council was likely to hear claims that his delegation is convening it on aspects of the Ukrainian crisis too often, he stated that it is the Ukrainian militants who commit terrorist acts almost every week. He affirmed that military infrastructure was not located in the immediate vicinity in any of the cases, voicing hope that ordinary citizens of the United States and European Union will hear the truth about the atrocities and the complicity of their Governments. Citing a premeditated attack on 24 January against a military transport aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces, transporting 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, he said an investigation has uncovered evidence of the involvement of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the terrorist attack. Calling on the Council and UN leadership to decisively condemn the rocket attack on Lysychansk and all other terrorist acts of the Kyiv “regime”, he affirmed that all goals for the demilitarization and “denazification” of Ukraine will be achieved, diplomatically or militarily.
The representative of the United States said: “Though there is much we don’t know, we do know this — the Kremlin bears full responsibility for the unconscionable death and destruction brought about as a consequence of [Russian Federation President Vladimir V.] Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine.” It is also known that attacks against civilian populations and objects violate international law, he stressed, calling for the protection of all civilians on all sides of every conflict. In contrast to the Russian Federation’s lack of transparency and contempt for international law, the Government of Ukraine has demonstrated its commitment to fully investigate any allegations of violations or abuses committed by its forces. And, while Moscow feigns concern for Ukrainian civilians in territory occupied by the Russian Federation, its forces continue to inflict immense suffering on Ukrainian civilians. Against that backdrop, he urged those present to “remember that Russia alone started this war”, and that its aggression against Ukraine is a blatant violation of both the Charter of the United Nations and Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The representative of Mozambique, stating that the latest attack on the city of Lysychansk underscored the escalating nature of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, noted that the two-year war had entrenched divisions and raises questions about the future stability of Europe, with broader implications for global security. He voiced concern over the intensification of the conflict amidst confirmed public vows for increased arms transfers and a diminishing willingness to engage in dialogue, as the war continued to cause significant carnage, with civilians bearing the brunt of violence. Given the destabilizing impact of the ongoing escalation on Europe as well as on economic stability and diplomatic relations, he underscored the need for constructive and genuine dialogue as the only path to resolving the conflict. “This perspective is a lesson learned from the African continent’s own ongoing efforts to end cycles of violence and address the root causes of conflicts,” he added.
The representative of the Republic of Korea cited the tragedy in the city of Lysychansk and a death toll including innocent civilians across Ukraine that continues to rise. He stressed that any attacks against civilians, including women and children, are absolutely unacceptable; even during war, civilian objects and infrastructure must be protected. Calling upon all parties to strictly abide by international humanitarian law, he stressed that it is simply unbearable to watch such events occur repeatedly as the war continues. If the Russian Federation hadn’t made the wrong decision, “we wouldn’t be witnessing and mourning these repeated tragic situations today”, he emphasized — urging that State to immediately withdraw its military forces from the territory of Ukraine and put an end to this war.
The representative of Switzerland condemned the Russian Federation’s military aggression as a grave violation of international law, reiterating that Moscow must withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory. Deploring the loss of every single life — “the most exorbitant cost of this war” — she called on all parties to the conflict to strictly respect international law. She also reiterated the need to guarantee full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access throughout Ukraine — including in territories under Russian Federation military control. Underscoring that humanitarian personnel and their activities are protected under international law, she condemned the recent attack that claimed the lives of two French aid workers and wounded employees of a Swiss non-governmental organization. Civilians — including aid workers — must not be targeted, she stressed, emphasizing the need for credible, transparent, independent and impartial investigations into all violations of international law and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
The representative of Ecuador said that today’s meeting to address the devastating effects of the war in Ukraine was held amid a sense of sadness and déjà vu, in the wake of yet another missile attack resulting in the loss of civilians’ lives, including those of children, as well as civilian infrastructure. Against that backdrop, Ecuador reiterated the need for attacks against the population and infrastructure to cease, underscoring the responsibility of parties to respect their international human rights law obligations. As well, he called for the guaranteeing of the protection of humanitarian staff and the unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance. Millions of Ukrainians are enduring harsh winter conditions, deprived of heating, water and electricity, he said, noting that each report of attacks underscores the urgent need to cease hostilities. He therefore called for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, in line with the Charter of the United Nations.
The representative of Japan stated that, while she is aware of the report of an incident taking place in Lysychansk, part of the territory of Ukraine and now temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation, without knowing the facts, it is difficult to make official comments. She therefore condemned all violations of international humanitarian law and called upon all parties to abide by it. “There can be no impunity for war crimes and other atrocities,” she said, stressing the need for accountability. The incident under discussion would not have happened without Moscow’s unprovoked aggression against a sovereign State, she said, stressing: “Russia continues its repeated and useless attempts to make us forget this clear fact.” Moreover, as a permanent member of the Security Council, the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine is a challenge to the rules and principles of the international community, she said, calling on that country to unconditionally withdraw from Ukraine.
The representative of Slovenia voiced regret over the loss of life in the attack in the occupied city of Lysychansk in “this unnecessary and unlawful war”. Citing the importance of international humanitarian law as essential for the protection of civilians and civilian buildings, he recalled the need for implementing Council resolution 2573 (2021). Noting that his delegation aims to build trust during its tenure in the Council, he recalled that it has repeatedly called for timely, effective and comprehensive accountability measures, including justice for victims. In this regard, Slovenia strongly supports the International Criminal Court. “Every civilian death is one too many,” he stressed, calling on the Russian Federation to stop its war of aggression and withdraw its troops from Ukraine.
The representative of Algeria, recalling his country’s call for restraint and dialogue instead of confrontation, voiced concern over polarization, which prolonged the crisis and raised the risk of further escalation. He voiced concern over the reported killing of 28 civilians by rockets targeting a bakery, stressing that military activities must never target civilians and civilian infrastructure. Voicing alarm over the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he called for diplomatic efforts to end the crisis; for parties to de-escalate hostilities and prioritize the protection of civilians; and a focus on constructive dialogue in line with the peaceful settlement of disputes. Finally, Algeria renews its call for intensified diplomatic efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace, in line with the Charter of the United Nations and the legitimate security concerns of parties.
The representative of France recalled that, on 1 February, the Russian Federation deliberately targeted the clearly marked convoy of a Swiss non-governmental organization, killing two French aid workers and injuring others. Further recalling other recent attacks and the massacres committed by Russian Federation forces in Ukraine, he underscored: “The cynicism with which Russia is trying to turn the tables of responsibility escapes no one.” By convening the Council today — while it targets civilian populations and objects daily — “Russia is insulting our intelligence”, he said, adding that Moscow is, once again, crudely manipulating the Council. Calling on the Russian Federation to cease its aggression and withdraw its troops as the International Court of Justice has asked, he said that, if Moscow did that, the carnage would cease. He added: “It can make that choice at any time, without harming its own security or that of the Russian-speaking people in Ukraine.”
The representative of Malta, pointing out that this month marked the two-year anniversary since the Russian Federation launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, said that thousands of civilians have since been killed, while children’s futures have been irreparably shattered. Moscow bears sole responsibility for this unjustified aggression, which shows no signs of abating, amid their forces’ steady stream of attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure. Against this backdrop, he called on the Russian Federation to fully comply with international law, including international humanitarian law, and stressed the need for the Council to ensure accountability. On that, he voiced support for the work of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, as well as other essential mandates. Malta renews its call on the Russian Federation to end its hostilities and withdraw its military forces, equipment and proxies from the entire territory of Ukraine.
The representative of Sierra Leone, noting the claim that Ukrainian forces allegedly shelled the Russian Federation-occupied city of Lysychansk, killing at least 15 people with 40 others trapped under the rubble, called on the parties to comply with their obligations to protect civilians and civilian objects. The war in Ukraine continues to have devastating consequences, with civilian casualties exceeding 29,731, 14.6 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance and approximately 10 million people forcibly displaced. He therefore urged the parties to the conflict to take meaningful steps towards the immediate cessation of the hostilities, engaging in good faith to find a political and diplomatic solution as envisaged in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations. He further reiterated a call for “the full respect of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders”.
The representative of China repeated a call for the parties to the conflict to show restraint, respect international law and abide by the principles of necessity, distinction and proportionality to keep civilians safe in good faith. Further, there is no military solution to the Ukraine crisis, and the parties must subscribe to a vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. Urging the parties to respond positively to the calls of the international community, have more engagement, resume talks and build consensus to “extinguish the flames of war”, he called on the international community to encourage moves towards peace, facilitate talks with greater effort and pave the way for a political solution. China’s position on Ukraine remains unchanged, he said — “as always, we stand on the side of peace and the side of dialogue” — and he added that Beijing is committed to facilitating peace talks to end hostilities.
The representative of the United Kingdom, while voicing regret over all loss of life, wished to restate facts “which Russia tries to hide from the world and its own citizens”. In the 700 days since Moscow’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, thousands of people have been killed or injured by Russian forces, as it attacked infrastructure relentlessly and perpetrated large-scale atrocities, he said. Against that backdrop, he stressed: “No amount of disinformation can obscure the basic fact that it was Russia who invaded Ukraine, unprovoked, and in clear violation of the United Nations Charter.” Instead of ending the war, Mr. Putin has instead “chosen to double down on his imperialist fantasy”, he said, pointing out that Russian strikes continued to rain down on Ukraine, using weapons procured from pariah States in violation of Security Council resolutions. Therefore, he repeated his call on Moscow to withdraw its forces from Ukraine.
The representative of Guyana, Council President for February, speaking in her national capacity, expressed sadness over reports of more civilian deaths in the ongoing war between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Voicing alarm at intensified shelling targeting critical infrastructure — “often intentionally so” — she called on the parties to fulfil their legal obligations to protect civilian infrastructure and avoid further civilian suffering. The continuing deterioration of all aspects of the situation of women and children across Ukraine is a further source of profound concern, with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reporting over 4 million children in need, facing heightened risks of death, disease, family separation and violence (including gender-based violence) and trafficking. She demanded that the parties uphold their obligations to protect children and called for an end to attacks on critical infrastructure including schools, hospitals, energy, water and sanitation systems.
The representative of the Russian Federation, taking the floor a second time, said to the representative of the United Kingdom that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson rushed to Kyiv in April 2022 to tell “the puppets” there to continue the war against the Russian Federation. To France’s representative, he expressed surprise over the “cynical position of French colleagues” when it comes to dividing civilians “into those whose deaths they condemn and those whose extermination they ignore”. He also said that France’s growing involvement in the Ukraine conflict not only draws it out and leads to further escalation, but also threatens the lives of French citizens who — “imbued with anti-Russian propaganda” — are going to the front lines to volunteer as mercenaries in this war. He expressed hope “that what is taking place will make the French public consider how justified the counter-productive and dangerous line its leadership is taking is in the conflict in Ukraine”.
The representative of the United Kingdom, taking the floor a second time, said that the story repeated by the Russian Federation’s delegate about Mr. Johnson going to Kyiv said a lot about Moscow’s approach to Ukrainian sovereignty. It suggested that, in their view, Ukraine cannot make sovereign decisions about the defence of their own country, he added.
The representative of France, taking the floor a second time, stated that, to the contrary, his country remembered all victims of the conflict, whoever they may be. There are 100,000s of them, for a war “based on nothing at all” that could stop tomorrow, he said, adding: “You don’t need 100,000s more victims and weeks of meetings to understand this. If the war stops, the victims will stop.” Statements made about the period prior to the “special military operation” that violated the Charter of the United Nations were wrong, he said, pointing out that he had been a negotiator for the Minsk agreements and their implementation between 2014 and 2019. During this time, there was no mechanism on the ground that verified the levels of violence in the Donbas region; however, the bombardments seen today are not comparable to the sporadic incidents that happened during that prior period, he said. On accusations of Nazism in Ukraine, he wished to point out that the only ones allied with it were Molotov and those supporting Wagner.
The representative of Ukraine stated that the “boundless cynicism of this regime that persists in inventing new allegations against the country it has fiercely attacked is astounding”. If “Putin’s envoy” wanted to elaborate on the cause of the bloodshed, there was no need for a Security Council meeting, “he may just stand in front of the mirror”, he stated. Stressing that Russian Federation diplomacy lacks bravery or principles, he affirmed that it was Mr. Putin’s decision to start the war of aggression against Ukraine, and it will be his decision to end it. While that delegation was misusing the Council platform, it offered an opportunity to remind members that the Ukrainian city of Lysychansk has been under Russian Federation occupation since July 2022 and awaits its liberation.
Citing horrendous war crimes in the city, as in many other Ukrainian cities and villages, he pointed to incidents including footage of a Ukrainian serviceman being castrated and tortured to death, while humanitarian workers including foreign nationals have also been victims. He further stressed that terror against Ukrainian civilians has become a Russian Federation hallmark since the beginning of the war, noting that a recent strike on a hotel killed two people, including a two-month-old. His country, he affirmed, remains committed to ensuring that the Russian Federation will pay for its crimes, calling on it to make “the only just decision” and cease its aggression as outlined in General Assembly resolution A/ES-11/L.7 of February 2023. “As soon as Russia’s bloody war is over, there will be no more human suffering and nor more civilian casualties in Europe,” he emphasized.