The UN Political Affairs chief appealed on Monday for an end to the “unjustified” war in Ukraine, which this month passed the 500-day mark.
Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo briefed the Security Council in the wake of the collapse earlier in the day of the Black Sea Initiative to bring grain and fertilizer from the region to the world.
“The longer this war continues, the more dangerous its consequences, including the possibility of a wider conflict,” she warned.
“For the sake of the Ukrainian people and for the sake of our global community, this senseless, unjustified war must stop.”
A ‘living hell’
Ms. DiCarlo provided a toll of the destruction since the start of the war on 24 February 2022.
"Over 500 days since the beginning of Russia’s full scale invasion, life in Ukraine remains a ‘living hell’, as the Secretary-General characterized it," she said.
To date, 9,287 people have been killed and more than 16,300 injured, according to the UN human rights office, OHCHR, although actual numbers are likely to be higher.
Children in particular have been hit hard, with 537 killed. Last year, Ukraine was the country with the highest number of children killed and maimed, and the most attacks on schools and hospitals.
“As the Secretary-General has consistently underlined, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a blatant violation of the UN Charter and international law,” she said.
Nuclear safety concerns
She also addressed the situation at the beleaguered Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which has been under Russian control since the early weeks of the war.
In recent days, experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stationed there have heard a series of explosions apparently some distance away from the nuclear plant.
“They are a stark reminder of potential nuclear safety and security risks facing the facility during the military conflict in the country,” she said.
Delivering aid to millions
As fighting rages in Ukraine, the UN and partners continue to deliver aid, reaching over five million people so far this year, with over 65 inter-agency convoys to frontline areas.
She said humanitarians still cannot access Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, where roughly 3.7 million people need assistance. Engagement with both Moscow and Kyiv is ongoing.
Access is also critical in the wake of the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam last month, which devastated communities along the Dnipro River and affected local ecosystems.
Yearning to go home
Meanwhile, displacement remains a serious concern. More than 6.3 million Ukrainians are living as refugees, and an estimated 5.1 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs). UN agency IOM said roughly 4.76 million people have returned to their communities since the war began in February 2022, including 1.1 million refugees.
Although most of the remaining refugees and IDPs want to return to their homes, insecurity makes this practically impossible as Ukraine is now among the most heavily mined countries in the world.
‘Harrowing’ rights violations
Ms. DiCarlo also reported on the “harrowing record of human rights violations” committed during the war. Abuses have included arbitrary deprivation of life, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, and conflict-related sexual violence.
The latest report by the UN human rights office, OHCHR, documented 864 individuals detained by Russia, with many cases amounting to forced disappearance. More than 90 per cent of civilian detainees were reportedly subjected to torture or ill-treatment, including sexual violence.
Justice and accountability
“We are also gravely concerned about the alleged summary execution of 77 civilians while they were arbitrarily detained by the Russian Federation, as reported by OHCHR,” she said.
The UN rights office also documented 75 cases of arbitrary detention by Ukrainian security forces, mostly of persons suspected of conflict-related criminal offences. In most cases, 57 per cent, torture and ill-treatment had occurred.
“All victims of human rights violations deserve justice and accountability, whichever side of the frontline they come from. Impunity must not be allowed to stand,” she said.
Russia ready to reconsider
In his speech to the Council, Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitriy Polyanskiy addressed the decision to terminate the Black Sea Initiative after a year in operation.
He said most corn and wheat exports went to wealthier countries while least developed countries received three per cent and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) even less.
“These facts are too unsavoury, and they speak for themselves, and so the Black Sea Initiative was without much ado simply reformatted from a humanitarian to a commercial one,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Mr. Polyanskiy further stated that despite UN efforts, there had been “no progress” in persuading western countries to comply with a parallel agreement on Russian exports.
“The Russian Federation will stand ready to consider its resumption only when concrete results are achieved rather than promises and assurances from western capitals,” he said.
’Blackmail’ and ‘hunger games’
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country wanted to keep exports flowing to international markets, and Russia is “blackmailing” the world.
“This blackmail affects the lives of millions of Ukrainians and tens of millions more around the world, primarily in Africa and Asia, who face the threat of rising food prices and hunger,” he said.
Mr. Kuleba recalled that the grain initiative had led to a drop in global food prices.
He called on UN Member States “to firmly demand that Russia resume its participation in the deal in good faith and stop its Hunger Games.”