By Margaret Besheer
Ukraine’s president admonished the U.N. Security Council Tuesday for its inaction in stopping Russia’s war against his country and called for Moscow to face accountability for crimes it has carried out there.
“We are dealing with a state that is turning the U.N. Security Council veto into the right to die,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said of Russia, which has used its veto to block any action in the council. “This undermines the whole architecture of global security, it allows them go unpunished, so they are destroying everything they can.”
The president spoke to the 15-nation council in Ukrainian via a videolink for about 15 minutes. He wore his now trademark army green shirt, and a Ukrainian flag was visible over his right shoulder.
He spoke just days after Russian troops withdrew from Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, where residents and local officials reported more than 300 civilians had been killed by Russian troops during the town’s occupation. Moscow has denied any involvement and blamed Ukrainian “radicals.”
“Are you ready to close the U.N.? Do you think that the time of international law is gone?” Zelenskyy asked. “If your answer is no, then you need to act immediately. The U.N. Charter must be restored immediately.”
He said there must also be accountability for the atrocities committed against his people.
“The Russian military and those who gave them orders must be brought to justice immediately for war crimes in Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden asserted that Russian leader Vladimir Putin should face a war crimes trial.
Zelenskyy also showed diplomats a short but brutally graphic video of dead bodies in several Ukrainian cities, including Bucha. Many were burned and charred beyond recognition; some had their hands tied behind their backs. Most lay in the street or in piles. The remains of at least one child were among the corpses. A mass grave was also shown. Ukraine’s U.N. envoy watched the video with tears in his eyes.
Russia’s U.N. envoy dismissed the video and Ukrainian claims that Russia has committed atrocities, even acknowledging the Russian military’s difficulties in advancing through the country, claiming it was to spare civilian casualties
“Today we have heard once again a huge amount of lies about Russian soldiers and military,” Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council.
He said hundreds of people were ready to testify to the cruelty of Ukrainian Nazis and radicals, who he blamed them for atrocities, and read fragments of their alleged statements. He repeated the Russian defense that all accusations are part of a propaganda war against Moscow, saying anyone who believes it are “absolute dilettantes or our Western partners.”
U.S. envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield made a quick trip to Moldova and Romania over the weekend to meet with Ukrainian refugees, who she said, “stuffed their lives into backpacks and left the only home they had ever known.”
She said the United States is studying the pictures emerging from Bucha.
“As we work to independently confirm the events depicted in these images, I would remind this council that based on the currently available information, the United States has assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also participated in Tuesday’s meeting. He appealed for the war to stop “now”.
He had called Monday for an independent investigation into the killing of civilians in Bucha.
Last week, the U.N. chief said he would explore possibilities for a humanitarian cease-fire and sent his humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, to Moscow. Griffiths will travel to Kyiv on Wednesday. Since the war started on February 24, the United Nations has only been able to successfully get four aid convoys into Ukraine. The fourth arrived Tuesday in Sievierdonetsk in the country’s far east.
Griffiths spoke to the council from Geneva. He said he had “frank exchanges” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his deputy, and separately with the deputy Defense Minister.
“I outlined possibilities for building on this cooperation, sharing specific suggestions for mutually agreed upon military freezes to allow for evacuations of civilians and for the safe passage of life-saving aid,” he said.
He said he came away from the meetings believing “that we have a long road ahead of us, but it must be traveled.”
The United Nations has verified the deaths of at least 1,480 civilians, including more than 121 children. It says the real number is likely much higher. More than 10 million people have been displaced in less than six weeks of conflict. More than 4.2 million of them are now refugees.
NATO to discuss Ukraine
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as he left Washington for a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels for more discussions on the Ukraine conflict, told reporters the horrors uncovered in Bucha are “not the random act of a rogue unit. It’s a deliberate campaign to kill, to torture, to rape, to commit atrocities. The reports are more than credible, the evidence is there for the world to see.”
Britain’s defense ministry said Tuesday that Ukrainian forces have retaken areas in the northern part of the country after “forcing Russian forces to retreat from the areas around Chernihiv and north of Kyiv.”
The ministry added that those Russian forces “are likely to require significant re-equipping and refurbishment” before being available for fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s General Staff said the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions are now a focus for Russia as it regroups with the goal of establishing “full control” of those areas.
Ken Bredemeier and Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.