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19 April 2022
9018th Meeting (PM)

Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine Deteriorating at Alarming Speed, Briefers Tell Security Council, Calling for Attacks on Civilians to Stop

Voicing Shock at Escalating Violence, Massive Displacement, Speakers Urge Nationwide Ceasefire

As the humanitarian situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate — at an alarming scale and speed of displacement not seen since the Second World War — briefers and delegates in the Security Council today called for the Russian Federation to uphold their international-law obligations, cease attacks on civilians and end the war.

Kelly T. Clements, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, briefed the Council via video-teleconference from Hungary, where almost a half million Ukrainians have fled — a fraction of the almost 5 million who have been forced to leave their country and the 7 million people displaced within Ukraine.  The United Nations also estimates that 13 million more Ukrainians are in the hardest hit areas, many unable to move and difficult to safely reach with aid.  The sheer scale and speed of displacement are immense, with women, children, and the aged having left behind their homes, lives, sons, fathers and husbands, forced to make impossible, heart-breaking decisions.

However, she cited remarkable acts of humanity in many States, with borders kept open and local authorities, communities and individuals providing food, medicine, transportation and a place to sleep.  While commending the courage and strength of the refugees themselves, she recalled that Martin Griffiths, Emergency Relief Coordinator, had described the chilling scene in Bucha in the Council last week.  As well, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, called for the Government of Ukraine to scale up assistance to reach 360,000 people inside the country.  “But no pile of blankets, no sum of cash, no amount of medicine is going to halt the death and destruction,” she emphasized, adding:  “While we will continue our job to deliver aid, we need this Council to do its job too” — calling on all Member States to find a way to end this horrific and senseless war.

Antonio Vitorino, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), also briefing the Council via video-teleconference, noted that more than one quarter of Ukraine’s total population has been forced to leave their homes in little more than seven weeks — a speed and magnitude of displacement not seen in Europe since the end of the Second World War.  Expressing concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he called on parties to the conflict to uphold their international-law obligations to protect civilians, their homes and civilian infrastructure.  The situation of women and children is particularly concerning; trafficking in persons was a known phenomenon in the region.  He urged all neighbouring and impacted countries to ensure the immediate identification and registration of unaccompanied and separated children fleeing from Ukraine.

Because internally displaced people tend to move to urban areas in search of work opportunities and social services, he highlighted the urgent need to scale-up services to meet the needs of an increased population.  Cash-based interventions are one of the most efficient and effective ways to reach people in need both inside Ukraine and in neighbouring countries.  The IOM has already started providing multi-purpose cash assistance in Ukraine and in several neighbouring countries, intending to reach up to 500,000 individuals in the next three months.  Moving forward, it is necessary to better understand the intentions of those fleeing.

In the ensuing debate, Council members stressed the importance of the Secretary-General’s call for a nationwide ceasefire, voicing their shock at the destruction of Bucha and Mariupol and the escalating violence in the Donbas region.  A number of delegates highlighted the dangers of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking driven by the displacement throughout Ukraine.

Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence of Ireland, reporting on his visit to Ukraine last week, said that Bucha now lies in ruins, “with the stench of burning buildings and bodies in the air”.  Remarking that he knows the difference between truth and staged propaganda, he emphasized that there was nothing fabricated about what he had seen.  “I stood at the edge of one of the mass graves, where the work of carefully exhuming bodies continued,” he told the Council.  Out of those bodies, 503 civilians had been identified, along with just four combatants.  He stressed that in all situations where war crimes may have been committed, timely, credible investigations must be undertaken.  While it has been said that “peace is only possible after the battle for Donbas”, he pointed out that such logic leads directly to further death, suffering and displacement.

Echoing those concerns, the representative of Albania said:  “We are running out of words” to describe the continued human suffering and deliberate large-scale destruction in Ukraine.  “But we are not running out of rage and condemnation for what should have never happened in the first place,” he added.  Everything is under attack in Ukraine — freedom, property, rights and life itself — amidst alarming reports of arbitrary detention and forced deportation.  Underscoring that the events of the last seven weeks show that misreading history leads to disaster, he recalled Joseph Stalin’s failed invasion of Finland in November 1939.  “No might can defeat the brave hearts of the right,” he said.

Kenya’s representative commended the rapid mobilization of humanitarian actors, urging them to redouble their efforts to ensure that refugees from Ukraine are protected from forms of modern slavery, such as forced labour and forced marriage.  He stressed that the Russian Federation must end the war and return to its critical responsibility of protecting international peace and security.

However, the delegate of China — emphasizing the need for diplomatic negotiation between the Russian Federation and Ukraine towards a ceasefire — underscored that all other parties must also focus on supporting that goal, as continuing to send weapons will only escalate the conflict and aggravate the humanitarian catastrophe.  The international community should also eliminate the negative impact of sanctions, work to keep the prices of food and energy stable and avoid unnecessary export restrictions.  The arbitrary freeze of foreign exchange reserves is a violation of sovereignty “tantamount to weaponizing economic independence”, he added.

The Russian Federation’s representative, reporting that his country’s economy is doing fine under sanctions, with new developments and reliable partners, said that the President of the Council tried to portray Ukraine as “some kind of pure, innocent white lamb”, while ignoring its eight-year war against its own residents in the east.  It was an attempt to rewrite history and omit the role of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in liberating Europe and the world from fascism.  The only State that is losing is Ukraine, he said — which ordinary Ukrainians understand, having faced not terror or shelling, but just ruthless indifference by Ukrainian neo-Nazis and radicals.  The objectives of the special military operation will certainly be achieved, he stressed. 

However, Ukraine’s representative disputed his counterpart’s stance of what was happening on the ground.  With the battle for Ukrainian Donbas unfolding, Russian forces are trying to raze towns to the ground, Mariupol being the most critical situation.  Filtration camps and torture chambers are being set up in Russian Federation-controlled areas, forcibly transferring citizens to Russian Federation territory — with 20,000 people kept in one camp, and 5,000 to 7,000 in another.  More than 500,000 Ukrainians have been forcibly transferred, which qualifies as kidnapping, with 5 million people turned into refugees and 7 million displaced, including 2.5 million children.  Calling on the Council to save innocent civilians, he pointed out that the 15-nation organ has held more than a dozen meetings on the aggression on Ukraine since January.  Yet it failed to prevent the war and is still failing now.  He urged the Council to address the Russian Federation’s dubious presence as a full and legitimate permanent member, adding that that country must be stopped.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Mexico, France, Gabon, Norway, United States, Brazil, India, Ghana, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Sweden (also for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway), Italy, Poland, Estonia (also for Latvia and Lithuania) and Slovakia.

The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:44 p.m.

Briefings

KELLY T. CLEMENTS, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke via video teleconference from Hungary, where almost a half million Ukrainians have fled, a fraction of the almost 5 million who have been forced to leave their country.  In addition, over 7 million people are displaced inside Ukraine.  The United Nations also estimates that 13 million more are in the hardest hit areas, many unable to move and difficult to reach with aid safely.  Having also visited the Czech Republic and Austria, she said the compassion and solidarity in those and other countries continues to be unprecedented.

While the sheer scale and speed of displacement is immense, she noted that those figures mean United Nations teams on the ground continue to be confronted by the same scenes and shared stories, with women, children, and the aged having left behind their homes, lives, sons, fathers and husbands.  She cited the story of Lupa, 25, of Odessa, forced to leave her father, a military reservist, there with her mother, while her grandmother west of Mariupol has been completely unreachable since the war began two months ago.  Each of the millions displaced have been forced to make impossible, heart-breaking decisions, leaving behind almost everything they hold dear. 

However, she pointed out that there have also been remarkable acts of humanity in many States, with messages of support posted everywhere, and local authorities, communities and individuals providing food, medicine, transportation and a place to sleep.  Borders have been kept open and those seeking safety are given protection and aid.  She called for that to continue in a non-discriminatory manner for all in need and cited the strength and composure of the refugees themselves, showing courage, many staying close to Ukraine and hoping to return as soon as possible.

She noted that Martin Griffiths, Emergency Relief Coordinator, had addressed the Council last week, describing the chilling scene in Bucha and throughout Ukraine, with dire humanitarian conditions for civilians forced to withstand fighting.  He had also spotlighted the tireless efforts to help besieged people in areas like Mariupol.  Two weeks ago, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, called for the Government of Ukraine to scale up assistance to reach 360,000 people inside the country.  She reported that the Agency will continue to expand lifesaving aid throughout the country — especially in the centre and the East, where a brutal humanitarian nightmare is unfolding, requiring not just resources, but safe and unhindered access to people in need.  People are still fleeing, she stressed — and not just from Ukraine but Yemen, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Syria, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Council must consider the needs of all refugees worldwide.

In Ukraine, the vast majority of those on the move are women and children, and the risks of gender-based violence, trafficking, and sexual exploitation and abuse are high, she said.  The Agency, along with the International Organization for Migration, is working to prevent, mitigate and respond to sexual trafficking and other risks.  Their efforts also aim to strengthen gender-based violence programmes, deploying expert coordinators to prevent sexual exploitation, and partnering with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on safe spaces called “Blue Dots” at main border crossing points.  However, she called on States to play the strongest role, ending the impunity of traffickers and identifying international protection needs of survivors and persons at risk.

“But no pile of blankets, no sum of cash, no amount of medicine, is going to halt the death and destruction,” she emphasized, adding:  “While we will continue our job to deliver aid, we need this Council to do its job too.”  When the High Commissioner last addressed the Council, he warned that without an immediate end to the shelling, they were planning for up to 4 million refugees; eight weeks into the conflict, there are 5 million and counting.  Despite the deep divisions in the Council, she called on all Member States to find a way to end this horrific and senseless war.

ANTÓNIO VITORINO, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), also speaking via video-teleconference, noted that more than one quarter of Ukraine’s total population has been forced to leave their homes in little more than seven weeks.  The speed and magnitude of this displacement had not been seen in Europe since the end of the Second World War.  Expressing concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he said that the increased targeting of cities will lead to more suffering, civilian casualties and displacement, both internal and external.  Against that backdrop, he called on parties to the conflict to uphold their international-law obligations to protect civilians, their homes and civilian infrastructure.

He then highlighted several specific risks faced by internally displaced people, refugees and third-country nationals.  In situations of mass displacement, up to 30 per cent of the population will experience some form of negative psychological impact.  Of particular concern is the situation of women and children who have fled or been displaced; trafficking in persons was a known phenomenon in the region and past crises have demonstrated that large-scale displacement, family separation and disruption of civil protection and community networks render these individuals vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse.  He urged all neighbouring and impacted countries to ensure the immediate identification and registration of unaccompanied and separated children fleeing from Ukraine.

Also underscoring that internally displaced people tend to move to urban areas in search of work opportunities and social services, he pointed out the urgent need to scale up services to meet the needs of an increased population in that regard.  Cash-based interventions are one of the most feasible, efficient and effective ways to reach people in need both inside Ukraine and in neighbouring countries.  For its part, the International Organization for Migration has already started providing multi-purpose cash assistance in Ukraine and in several neighbouring countries and, with its partners, intends to reach up to 500,000 individuals in the next three months.

He went on to say that, moving forward, it is necessary to better understand the intentions of those fleeing, those forced to leave their homes and those who have been separated from their families due to the ongoing conflict.  IOM will continue, through its teams on the ground, to collect and disseminate information critical to this effort to ensure that targeted actions are taken to improve the well-being of all those affected by the war.  As more displacements are likely, it is also crucial to plan ahead and ensure that all those fleeing the war have access to adequate support and services.  He added that IOM stands ready to assist those — notably, third-country nationals — who have fled Ukraine but may not always benefit from the European Union’s temporary-protective directive.

Statements

SIMON COVENEY, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence of Ireland, said that he travelled to Kyiv last week to see for himself the situation on the ground.  “What I saw was profoundly shocking”, he said.  Bucha now lies in ruins, “with the stench of burning buildings and bodies in the air”.  Hundreds of family homes, shops and other civilian infrastructure have been blackened, burned, looted, damaged and destroyed.  Family cars were riddled with bullets and had windshields smashed, with bloodstains still evident.  Remarking that he knew the difference between truth and staged propaganda, he emphasized that there was nothing fabricated about what he had seen.  “I stood at the edge of one of the mass graves, where the work of carefully exhuming bodies continued,” he said.  Out of those bodies, 503 civilians had been identified, along with just four combatants.  Noting the use of explosive weapons — including prohibited cluster munitions — he said that it speaks to “an utter disregard by Russian forces for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians”.

During his visit, people spoke with him about the urgent need for accountability, he continued.  Thus, in all situations where war crimes may have been committed, timely, credible investigations must be undertaken.  The Russian Federation’s war has driven millions of Ukrainians from their homes.  Almost 5 million people have become refugees and over 7 million have been displaced within Ukraine.  The humanitarian consequences of the war are being felt thousands of miles from Ukraine.  The prices of wheat and oil have risen by 300 per cent in Somalia, where more than 700,000 people are already displaced by drought.  Wheat reserves in Palestine could be depleted in as little as three weeks.  He also noted that some progress has been made in Istanbul between the parties on key issues and there is a basis for a peace agreement.  President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has constantly remained open to diplomatic solutions, in the face of aggression and brutality against the people of Ukraine.  It has been said in many quarters that “peace is only possible after the battle for Donbas”, he said, noting that he cannot accept that logic, as it leads directly to further death, suffering and displacement.  The Security Council must challenge that thinking and demand more.

JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) said his country and France had requested today’s meeting in light of the many humanitarian consequences of the Ukraine conflict.  With those in the east forced to flee west, he cited the deplorable recent attack on a city that has welcomed hundreds of internally displaced persons.  With 7 million displaced and 5 million refugees, 90 per cent of them women and children exposed to abuses, he stressed that all measures must be taken by the Council to prevent gender-based violence and human trafficking.  He recognized crucial and laudable efforts to provide mental health and psychosocial support and the “Blue Dots” programme, as well as the solidarity shown by neighbouring States welcoming millions of refugees.  However, there is no justification for the horrific images of discrimination and xenophobia against third-country nationals seeking refuge.  Voicing support for the Secretary-General’s new call for a humanitarian pause, and the need to investigate any incident, he stressed the need for safe, unimpeded humanitarian access.  He called for an end to the war and support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) stressed that the international community’s efforts must focus on delivering assistance and aiding refugees without discrimination, as the ongoing Russian aggression will inevitably continue to force displacement.  Highlighting the European Union’s temporary-protection directive, he said the same has delivered prompt assistance to those fleeing the war, providing refugees inside the European Union with access to education, medical care and employment.  He went on to say that the Russian army has been killing civilians, journalists and humanitarian and medical personnel for nearly two months, as well as destroying schools, water infrastructure and hospitals.  He also underscored that the murder and maiming of children, along with attacks targeting schools and hospitals, are grave crimes that will not go unpunished.  Calling on the Russian Federation to respect the International Court of Justice’s ruling and end its war of aggression against Ukraine, he spotlighted the overriding need to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access.

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said that day-to-day there is a heavier toll caused by the war in Ukraine; some 12 million people have been impacted since the beginning of hostilities.  There are over 4 million refugees, mostly women and children, who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, including 200,000 citizens from other countries, who do not deserve less compassion than other victims of the war.  The welcoming ability of United Nations agencies can barely cover the needs of the number of people on the move and humanitarian organizations in and around Ukraine are all at bursting point, he said, expressing support for all humanitarian workers and applauding the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and IOM.  Without this assistance, the daily life of refugees would be even worse.  Noting that the Council had recently met to address allegations of sexual crimes and the risk of trafficking, he underscored that it is now common for trafficking networks to become “vultures” towards those who are without defence and need protection.  Vigilance is needed in order to stop them in their tracks and stop all these networks, be they in Ukraine or elsewhere, he cautioned.

MONA JUUL (Norway) said her delegation is appalled by the Russian Federation’s ongoing offensive in Donbas and the relentless attacks against civilians and vital civilian infrastructure across Ukraine, including in urban areas.  “Russia has intentionally created a humanitarian disaster,” she said, calling for an end to all attacks on civilians and welcoming the investigations of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity opened by the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor, as well as the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry for Ukraine.  Joining other speakers in echoing the Secretary-General’s call for a humanitarian pause, she said the sheer scale of the crisis demands protection responses at unprecedented levels.  All countries receiving displaced people must ensure their immediate identification and registration and put in place measures to protect them from further risks and harm.  Further, access to education and health services — including for sexual and reproductive health — must be a top priority.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that since 2014 his country has suffered the consequences of the deteriorating situation of Ukraine, due to the anti-constitutional coup, a war on the Russian language and the destruction of the residents of the East from the Maidan lawlessness.  As well, since 2014, at least 1.7 million people have turned to the Russian Federation for citizenship or refuge after shelling of Donbas by Ukrainians.  The mass exodus of Ukrainians is nothing new; the population went from 54 to 41 million between 1990 and 2021.  Western colleagues overlook the corruption and political murders, repression of opposition leaders and closure of media outlets in that country.  The President of the Council tried to portray Ukraine as “some kind of pure, innocent white lamb”, which does not include the eight-year war against its own residents in the east.  Efforts to depict events since 24 February as a war of choice hypocritically make it appear as if nothing worse transpired in the world since the Second World War, he said, pointing to the hundreds of thousands of victims of Western aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.  This was an attempt to rewrite history and omit the role of the Union of Soviet Socials Republics in liberating Europe and the world from fascism, he said, adding that such a view also overlooks the Nazism in Ukraine, one of reasons for the current special military operation.

Weapons producers “are eagerly rubbing their hands over increased profits”, he continued, noting stock in the leading United Kingdom producer, BAE Systems, has increased by 24 per cent.  The same trends were occurring in the United States war industry — to the delight of Eastern European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) looking to rid themselves of obsolete Russian weapons.  Meanwhile, they were sending obsolete equipment to Ukraine, which he said the Russian Federation will “grind and crush”.  Washington also intends to have other States become addicted to its gas products, which are more expensive than those of the Russian Federation.  However, the Russian Federation economy is doing fine under sanctions, with new developments and reliable partners.  The only State that is losing is Ukraine, which ordinary Ukrainians understand.  They have not been experiencing terror or shelling — just ruthless indifference by Ukrainian neo-Nazis and radicals.  Incidents in Bucha and Mariupol are reminiscent of the tradition of Joseph Goebbels.  The special operation does not seek support from the Security Council, he said, pointing out that they are using it as a geopolitical game with Ukraine as a mere pawn.  Under those circumstances, calls for a ceasefire sound mendacious, allowing radicals to regroup and receive more weapons.  The objectives of the special military operation will certainly be achieved, he stressed.

ZHANG JUN (China), underscoring the importance of reducing harm to civilians, called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian-assistance operations and strengthen communication on humanitarian issues.  Further, the international community should bolster coordination and provide increased support to refugee-receiving countries in the spirit of shared responsibility.  All refugees — regardless of nationality, race or religion — should be treated equally, and the international community must combat human trafficking and other criminal activities targeting women and children seeking refuge.  He also stressed the need to urgently promote diplomatic negotiation, calling on the Russian Federation and Ukraine to work towards a ceasefire.  All other parties must focus on supporting the same, as continuing to send weapons will not bring peace; rather, it will only escalate the conflict and aggravate the humanitarian catastrophe.  The international community should also eliminate the negative impact of sanctions, work to keep the prices of food and energy stable and avoid unnecessary export restrictions.  The arbitrary freeze of foreign exchange reserves also constitutes a violation of sovereignty and is “tantamount to weaponizing economic independence”, he added.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that she was heartbroken to hear about the Caritas aid workers killed in Mariupol.  “Their deaths are tragic and unacceptable,” she said.  Humanitarian workers are impartial and save lives.  They should be protected and not shelled indiscriminately.  The Russian Federation’s war keeps generating new sobering milestones.  Some 5 million refugees have left, and the number of internally displaced persons is even greater, she said, adding that such numbers are alarming.  She thanked the countries who have taken in the vast number of refugees, noting that when she visited the Republic of Moldova and Romania she saw the difficulty of integrating refugees in a short period of time.  Yet, those countries have shown the world what it means to be hospitable and kind.  Many refugees from Ukraine are also being hosted by other European countries, and the United States is welcoming up to 100,000 Ukrainians and funding efforts to support all those who have fled.  Nonetheless, just as much support and grace needs to be given to the many third-country nationals fleeing Ukraine.  The threat of human trafficking also needs to be addressed.  Because refugees have limited access to resources — including employment — they are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, she said, noting that women and children make up 90 per cent of the refugee population.

JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil), noting that Europe is facing the fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Second World War, voiced concern that nearly one quarter of Ukraine’s population has been displaced.  Many more may follow.  All parties have an obligation to protect civilians and their infrastructure and allow unimpeded humanitarian access, especially in eastern Ukraine.  However, only a nationwide ceasefire will allow for civilians to have real protection.  The conflict is creating a looming food crisis, with Ukraine’s productive capacities on one side and unilateral sanctions on the other, while developing countries still struggle with the consequences of the pandemic.  The World Food Programme announcement of a reduction of aid to Africa and the Middle East illustrates the problem, he said, stressing that the world should not take from the hungry to feed the starving.  Developing States host 85 per cent of refugees, while food prices are 40 per cent higher than last year.  Further, fertilizer prices have doubled.  Noting that since 3 March Brazilian embassies in several countries in the conflict region have granted special visas for displaced Ukrainians, he stated that no person fleeing armed conflicts should ever face discrimination, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality or any other status.

RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) called for guarantees of safe passage to deliver humanitarian and medical supplies, especially through the establishment of permanent humanitarian corridors.  India has ensured the safe return of 22,500 Indians from Ukraine through “Operation Ganga” and has helped nationals from 18 other countries in that process.  He also drew attention to rising food and energy costs in emphasizing the collective interest of working both inside and outside the United Nations to resolve the situation.  He welcomed the recommendation by the Global Crisis Response Group to exempt World Food Programme food purchases from export restrictions, with immediate effect, adding that the growing shortages can only be addressed by “going beyond constraints that bind us presently”.  He called for an immediate halt to the violence and pursuit of diplomacy and dialogue.  “When innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option,” he insisted.

FERIT HOXHA (Albania), observing that every briefer echoes the same concerns, pointed out that “we are running out of words” to describe the continued human suffering and deliberate large-scale destruction in Ukraine.  “But we are not running out of rage and condemnation for what should have never happened in the first place”, he added.  Much of Ukraine’s population have been forced to leave everything behind, have lost their homes, been deprived of their dreams and have only been left with “made-in-Russia nightmares”, he said.  Everything is under attack in Ukraine — freedom, property, rights and life itself — amidst alarming reports of arbitrary detention, forced deportation and increased conflict-related sexual violence.  These acts are appalling and must be investigated, as accountability is essential to suppressing and preventing acts of aggression.  Underscoring that the events of the last seven weeks show that reality is hard to deny, and that misreading history leads to disaster, he recalled Joseph Stalin’s failed invasion of Finland in November 1939.  “No might can defeat the brave hearts of the right,” he said.

HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said that in just seven weeks, almost 5 million people in Ukraine have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries.  He commended the willingness of those countries for opening their borders to receive the exodus of people arriving daily.  Reports of discriminatory treatment of third-party nationals in their attempts to cross the borders into neighbouring countries were concerning, he said, condemning treatment based on race or nationality and calling for the equal treatment of all refugees.  He urged countries to refrain from enforced deportations and instead provide third-party nationals with information to remain or to return voluntarily to their home country.  He called for the prioritizing of the sick, women, children and the elderly, among others.  Cases of trafficking and sexual violence against women and girls must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account.  There must be negotiated humanitarian pauses for the safe passage of persons leaving the war-torn country.  He also called on parties to respect their obligations under international law and refrain from attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.

MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), commending the rapid mobilization of humanitarian actors in and around Ukraine, urged them to redouble their efforts to ensure that refugees from Ukraine are protected from forms of modern slavery, such as forced labour and forced marriage.  The security services of receiving countries should also make every effort to ensure that those victims of war are protected, without discrimination based on race, national origin or religion.  He called on the Russian Federation to end the war and return to its critical responsibility of protecting international peace and security.  Continuing the current course will only lead to more suffering and a steady erosion of the legitimacy and status of the United Nations — “no matter its efforts to provide humanitarian relief”.  Also calling for safe humanitarian corridors in Mariupol, Kherson and other besieged cities, he added that the African nationals trapped there must be protected by all actors.

MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates), observing that more than a quarter of Ukrainians have fled their homes during the conflict, noted that 90 per cent are women and children.  Calling on all parties to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law, he reiterated the importance of an immediate cessation of hostilities.  Dialogue remains the only way to sustainably end the conflict, he said, stressing the need to ensure women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in all peace efforts.  He went on to commend neighbouring countries in hosting large numbers of refugees, particularly Poland and Romania who, together, have taken in more than 3.4 million Ukrainians, and the Republic of Moldova, which has taken in more than 400,000 refugees, amounting to 15 per cent of its total population.  Also commending the European Union for its ongoing support amid the refugee crisis, he called for pathways to allow civilians to safely and voluntarily evacuate and for humanitarian aid to reach those in need.  Because of the increasing reports of human trafficking among refugees, he emphasized the need to ensure structured systems are in place at border crossings.  The humanitarian response to Ukraine must include the voices of women, he said.  He also underlined the need to address the global impacts of the conflict in Ukraine urgently and effectively, pointing to the sharp rise in food and commodity prices in many countries.

BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), Council President for April, spoke in her national capacity, noting that millions of Ukrainians face even more suffering as the Russian Federation begins a new offensive in the Donbas region.  Against that backdrop, humanitarian considerations must be guided by two overarching principles — the protection of innocent civilians and prosecution of war crimes.  The majority of those displaced after 55 days of war are women and girls, as well as members of other vulnerable groups such as the elderly, persons with disabilities and third-country nationals.  Many innocent Ukrainians have been forcibly deported, against their will, to the Russian Federation.  “We all have a responsibility to put an end to this suffering,” she emphasized, noting that the United Kingdom has pledged nearly £400 million in aid to Ukraine and is a leading humanitarian donor, providing £220 million in humanitarian assistance to countries receiving and hosting refugees.  Echoing calls for a humanitarian pause to help civilians in the hardest-hit areas, she added that “Ukraine is now a crime scene.”  Justice must be sought for the crimes against humanity committed there.

SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine), describing how surgeons in Lviv operated on a three-year-old boy, internally displaced from Kharkiv, who survived a missile strike, asked ”Putin’s representative” how that attempted murder was protecting Donbas from neo-Nazis.  The question, he noted, would just produce another lie to justify the unjustifiable.  The Russian Federation Sixty-Fourth Brigade, cited for mass heroism and valour by President Putin, had been deployed in Bucha in March for a month of terror, its soldiers already identified as responsible for mass atrocities.  Observing that the Russian interpretation of heroism and courage includes killing and rape, he commented on the troops’ “tenacity” in keeping their lootings while fleeing Ukrainian forces and leaving behind their munitions.  Stolen items included computers, phones, televisions and even toilets, as about one quarter of Russian Federation residents still do not have access to indoor plumbing.  With the battle for Ukrainian Donbas unfolding, Russian forces are trying to raze towns to the ground, Mariupol being the most critical situation, with thousands remaining in shelter in the Azovstal plant while the Russian Federation shells and denies humanitarian convoys. 

Calling on the Council to save the innocent civilians, he acknowledged the Secretary-General’s call for a humanitarian pause.  However, he noted the “Putinite” in the Council had said calls for a ceasefire sound false and insincere — “followed by a torrent of tommyrot and drivel”.  Calling for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide special cash assistance for internally displaced persons, he stressed that the magnitude of the crisis requires scaled-up humanitarian response and aid.  Filtration camps and torture chambers are being set up in Russian Federation-controlled areas, forcibly transferring citizens to Russian Federation territory — with 20,000 people kept in one camp, and 5,000 to 7,000 in another.  More than 500,000 Ukrainians have been forcibly transferred, which qualifies as kidnapping, with 5 million people turned into refugees and 7 million displaced, including 2.5 million children.  Noting that since January the Council has held more than a dozen meetings on the Russian Federation aggression on Ukraine, he asked how many will be held without changing that State’s role.  The Council failed to prevent the war and is still failing now, while the subjects of a future war trial are still making statements in the chamber.  He urged the Council to address the Russian Federation’s dubious presence as a full and legitimate permanent member, adding that that country must be stopped.

ANNA KARIN ENESTRÖM (Sweden), also speaking for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, pointed out that the humanitarian efforts have been dwarfed by Russian aggression against Ukraine.  Commending the generosity of neighbouring countries hosting refugees from Ukraine, she noted that the bloc has mustered an impressive response to the initial humanitarian appeal of $1.1 billion.  To further improve the efficiency of humanitarian work, she noted that safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access must be granted, not least to the hardest-hit areas, but also to places such as Mariupol and Kharkiv.  She also welcomed the efforts to negotiate a humanitarian ceasefire. 

Protection and assistance must take into account the needs of everyone living in a situation of vulnerability, she added, pointing to the heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence and difficulty faced by people with disabilities when evacuating.  Civilians must never be a target, and civilian infrastructure must be protected.  “No amount of denial and disinformation will prevent accountability for serious international crimes, including war crimes,” she said, recalling the two resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and the order by the International Court of Justice recently, which urge the Russian Federation to stop the war.  However, she stated:  “This aggression should have never had been launched in the first place and it must end now.  It is never too late to make the right choice.”

MAURIZIO MASSARI (Italy) expressed deep concern over repeated attacks on civilians and over reports of war crimes and other serious violations of international law perpetrated by the Russian armed forces.  Pointing out that human displacement is an inevitable reaction to the scourge of war, he said that, even though numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees are already shocking, “they continue to grow as we speak”.  For its part, Italy has contributed €20 million to the United Nations flash appeal and €6 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross to assist the same.  Further, it has welcomed almost 100,000 refugees from Ukraine.  He stressed, however, that this crisis is one of protection for women and children — who constitute 90 per cent of those fleeing the war — as they are subject to the risks of trafficking, violence and psychological trauma.  Given the gender profile of the refugee outflow, these risks are incredibly high.  He went on to say that testimonies of rape and sexual violence perpetrated by Russian troops are disturbing, underscoring that full accountability must be ensured for individuals committing such violations to avoid any form of impunity.

KRZYSZTOF MARIA SZCZERSKI (Poland) noted that his country remains open to those fleeing the atrocities of the Russian aggression.  With almost 15 million households in Poland, nearly 3 million people from Ukraine have been welcomed in; that means that 1 in 5 Polish families lives now with guests from abroad.  However, despite the exceptional outpouring of solidarity and political support from many corners of the world — as well as condemnations of the aggressor and sanctions imposed on Moscow — it is obvious that Poland and other neighbouring countries will not be able to shoulder the burden of the crisis on their own.  More coordination is needed, he said, recalling that since the start of the war the Government of Poland, non-governmental organizations and individuals have been delivering aid to Ukraine and helping to facilitate aid from other countries. 

Urging the United Nations and its partners to use the well-functioning logistical systems in Poland and Ukraine to step up their efforts, he said Poland today announced the opening of its first “container town” for internally displaced persons in Lviv, as well as similar projects to be launched around Kyiv.  There is also an urgent need to adequately respond to and prevent the risks related to displacement, such as human trafficking and abuse, he said, noting that the Polish Border Guard, police and other authorities have increased their efforts in that regard.  “In view of this enormous humanitarian crisis, much more can be done by the international community to respond to rapidly raising challenges,” he said, spotlighting an upcoming donors conference on 5 May — organized by Poland and Sweden — and encouraging States to make broad, high-level and generous contributions.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), also speaking for Latvia and Lithuania, said that 5 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine in less than two months, most of them women and children.  Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania continued to assist the nearly 110,000 refugees arriving in their countries, sending medical and shelter supplies, food aid, and other support.  Their combined humanitarian assistance, including from the State and individuals, companies and civil society organizations amounts to £66 million.  One in every three Estonians has made a charitable donation to help the people in Ukraine, he said, including their support to the United Nations Humanitarian Flash Appeal and the Regional Refugee Response Plan, as well as to the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He went on to express concern about the reports of Ukrainians, including children, forcibly moved to “filtration camps” and then to the territory of the Russian Federation, often without their parents.  Describing the humanitarian situation of those trapped in the sieged cities as “hell”, he called for full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to Mariupol and other besieged cities, as well as safe passage to allow civilians to safely and voluntarily leave conflict-affected areas.  Spotlighting the country bloc’s support for the international mechanisms on the investigation concerning alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine, he underlined the importance of continued United Nations monitoring, documenting and reporting on violations against civilians, including women and children.

RÓBERT CHATRNÚCH (Slovakia) said that the Security Council has held multiple meetings because of the Russian Federation’s decision to start a senseless war.  The consequences of this aggression are unprecedented and outrageous.  The briefers have confirmed grave concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he said, noting the growing number of civilian causalities and damage to civilian infrastructure.   According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2072 civilians have been killed since the war began and the reality will be much worse.  He expressed his alarm over the refugee crisis that is the result of the Russian Federation’s aggression.  

Since the beginning of the aggression, about 345,000 refugees have entered Slovakia, he continued.  His Government has adopted numerous legislative measures for refuge for people crossing its border.  Further, 7,000 children from Ukraine are receiving education in Slovakia’s schools.  His country is determined to provide humanitarian support to the Ukrainian people and it stands with them in challenging times.  Causing this suffering is barbaric and the aggressor accountable for this situation is evident, he said, calling on the Russian Federation to cease its hostilities against Ukraine, particularly its attacks against civilians and civilian objects.  The Russian Federation should implement the humanitarian resolution passed by the General Assembly on 24 March 2022, he said.

For information media. Not an official record.