Zelensky accuses Russia of war crimes, criticizes UN inaction

As evidence of atrocities on the outskirts of kyiv mounts and Russian forces prepare for a new offensive further east, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a scathing speech to the United Nations on Tuesday, accusing the Russia from a litany of horrors and wondering if a world body that takes no action to stop a war is of any use.

Speaking via video link to the UN Security Council, he compared Russian forces to Islamic State, called for a Nuremberg-like war crimes tribunal and expressed bitter frustration knowing that the council – where Russia is one of five permanent members with veto power – would just talk.

“Where is the security that the Security Council must guarantee? Mr. Zelensky said, raising the question of whether Russia deserved to keep its seat on the council. “Are you ready to shut down the UN? Do you think the time for international law is over? If your answer is no, then you must act immediately.

The chamber fell silent as a short video provided by Mr Zelensky’s government was released showing some of the hundreds of bodies found strewn around the town of Bucha, northwest of kyiv, after the withdrawal of Russian forces last week – bloated, charred bodies of civilians, including children. Some victims, their hands tied, had been shot in the head.

Mr Zelensky said that in Bucha, “they killed whole families, adults and children, and they tried to burn the bodies”. Civilians “were run over by tanks as they sat in their cars in the middle of the road”, he added, claiming that “women were raped and killed in front of their children; their tongues were plucked out.

China refrained from criticizing Russia during Tuesday’s session, saying the Security Council should wait for investigations to establish the facts in Ukraine. A rising global power, China has moved closer to Russia in recent years, united by a common antipathy towards the United States. Divisions over the war have appeared essentially unchanged since February 26, when 11 of 15 members of the Security Council voted for a resolution condemning the Russian invasion, Russia vetoed the measure and three others abstained – China, India and the United Arab Emirates.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya reiterated his government’s claims – refuted by ample evidence – that the atrocities in Bucha were either faked or did not happen when the Russians held the town. He made a number of other unsubstantiated claims, including falsely stating that in Ukraine – where the freely elected president is a Jew who lost family members in the Holocaust – the Nazis “run the show.” “.

After Russian President Vladimir V. Putin launched war on Ukraine on February 24, his army was bogged down on multiple fronts in the face of logistical failures and surprisingly fierce Ukrainian resistance. Russian forces spent weeks shelling and occupying towns and villages in northern Ukraine, where they suffered heavy casualties as they failed to capture Kyiv, the capital. Last week they withdrew from that part of the country, preparing for what Russian officials and foreign analysts said was a shift in focus to eastern Ukraine.

“The next crucial battle of the war” is likely to be for the eastern city of Sloviansk, according to a report released Tuesday by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

Revulsion over the apparent executions uncovered in Bucha has deepened Russia’s economic isolation, despite its denials of responsibility.

The US has begun blocking Russia from making debt payments using dollars held in US banks, a move designed to deplete its international currency reserves and potentially push Russia into its first foreign currency default. for a century.

And the European Union has taken an important step to overcome resistance to cutting fuel imports from Russia, on which its member countries are heavily dependent. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has proposed cutting Russian coal imports – oil and natural gas remain hotly debated – and banning Russian ships from entering EU ports under a new round of sanctions.

The measures, which require unanimous approval, are expected to be put to a vote by EU ambassadors on Wednesday. Diplomats said the sanctions package would target, among others, two of Mr Putin’s daughters. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles announced their intention to visit kyiv this week and meet with Mr. Zelensky.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said it had uncovered, together with kyiv police, what it called a Bucha “torture chamber”, where Russian forces had left behind the bodies of five men, the bound hands, who had been tortured and killed.

Mr. Zelensky reinforced a point that UN officials have repeated repeatedly: the true extent of destruction and casualties in Ukraine is unknown, but far greater than has been documented, as outside observers do not were unable to reach some of the most devastated areas. “Now the world can see what Russia did in Bucha, but the world has yet to see what it did in other parts of our country,” Zelensky said.

New York Times reporters were able to reach the town of Borodyanka, northwest of kyiv, for the first time on Tuesday, battered by Russian rockets and airstrikes, where the mayor estimated that 200 dead lay under the rubble. In the besieged port of Mariupol, local officials took stock in their thousands.

Bitter fighting continues along Ukraine’s southern coast, where Mariupol, largely reduced to rubble by Russian bombardment, is “the center of hell”, said Martin Griffiths, the humanitarian relief chief of the ‘UN.

More than 250 miles west of Mariupol, explosions shuddered in the port of Mykolaiv, a day after the mayor said Russian strikes killed 10 people and injured 46. He said Russians hit residential buildings, schools, a hospital and an orphanage in his town since the start of the war and had used cluster munitions. Soldiers defending the city said Russian forces were increasingly hitting civilian targets.

After four consecutive days of trials and failures to send an aid convoy to Mariupol, where people desperately lack food, water, electricity, heating and medicine, the International Committee of the Cross Rouge decided on Tuesday not to try again.

Ukrainian officials say the Russians blocked crucial supplies from reaching the city. Mr. Nebenzya, the Russian ambassador to the UN, said the Ukrainians had blocked the convoy and he claimed that Russian forces had evacuated 123,500 people from Mariupol.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that in fact tens of thousands of Ukrainians, including from Mariupol, had been taken to “filtration camps” in Russia, where members of the family were separated and people had their passports withdrawn. and cell phones. “I don’t need to elaborate on what these so-called filter camps are reminiscent of,” she said. “It’s scary, and we can’t look away.”

Rosemary A. DiCarlo, UN Under-Secretary-General, said there was credible evidence that Russia had used cluster munitions – shells that burst to spit numerous small bombs over a wide area – at least 24 times in populated areas of Ukraine. Most countries have signed a treaty banning cluster munitions as indiscriminate weapons with a high risk of civilian casualties, but Russia, like the United States, has not.

More than 11 million Ukrainians – about one in four – have fled their homes because of war, including more than 4 million who have left the country, according to the United Nations, creating the largest and most serious refugee crisis fast in Europe since the Second World War. .

Russian forces recently captured the eastern city of Izyum, and Western analysts say they are preparing to move south and southeast, to bolster efforts to seize more of it. Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting for eight years. . Many of the best-equipped and most experienced Ukrainian military units have been concentrated in this region, known as Donbass.

“Russian forces continue to make little or no progress in frontal assaults” on parts of Donbass still held by Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War reported.

Whether the Russians are simply aiming to reinforce their units in Donbass or planning a more ambitious effort to surround Ukrainian forces, capturing Sloviansk is crucial, the institute said.

An attack in the Luhansk region on Tuesday that Ukrainians blamed on Russian forces hit a storage tank containing nitric acid, releasing a toxic cloud and prompting the regional administrator to urge people to stay away. inside and to close their windows.

Russian units that have withdrawn from the area around kyiv, having suffered heavy casualties, major equipment losses and poor morale, the institute said, “are very unlikely to be deployed effectively anywhere else in Ukraine and are probably a depleted force”.

An intelligence assessment released by the UK Ministry of Defense was less definitive, but said any Russian force redeploying from the north would first need considerable time to repair and replace equipment, and to make up for losses. .

The report was provided by Carlotta Gall in Borodyanka, Ukraine; Andrew E. Kramer in Kyiv, Ukraine; Rick Gladstone, Michael Schwirtz and Farnaz Fassihi At New York; Dan Bilefsky to Montreal; Steven Erlanger and Matina Stevis-Gridneff in Brussels; Megan Specia and Cora Engelbrecht in Krakow, Poland; Anton Troyanovsky in Istanbul; and Lara Jacques in Washington.

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