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U.N. chief: Russia brought ‘living hell’ to Ukrainians

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting to mark one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., February 24, 2023.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

The United Nations Security Council held a minute of silence Friday for victims of the war in Ukraine as Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Russia’s invasion had devastated the country.

“Life is a living hell for the people of Ukraine,” Mr. Guterres told the council as it met to mark the first anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour.

“Peace has had no chance. War has ruled the day. The Russian invasion is a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter and international law. It has unleashed widespread death, destruction and displacement,” he said.

The war was condemned by most of the members of the security council in a symbolic ministers meeting to mark the bleak anniversary.

Explained | The past and present of Russia’s war in Ukraine 

On year ago, Russia “unleashed that war with no other justification than its obsessive desire to resurrect a past,” said French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.

“Since then, it has used the most extreme violence to deny the identity of a country and a people,” she said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the council that there must be a just and durable peace based on the U.N. Charter.

“No one wants peace more than the Ukrainian people,” Mr. Blinken said.

But “any peace that legitimises Russia’s seizure of land by force will weaken the Charter and send a message to would-be aggressors everywhere that they can invade countries and get away with it,” he said.

Yet, one day after the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to demand Russia withdraw its troops from Ukraine, Moscow’s envoy to the U.N. remained steadfast in blaming the war on the Kyiv and the West.

“Ukraine is not a victim,” Vasily Nebenzya said.

Kyiv and its allies “left us with no option other than to eliminate threats to Russia from the territory of Ukraine militarily,” Mr. Nebenzya said.

Mr. Guterres laid out the human toll of the war: more than eight million Ukrainians have fled to other parts of Europe, and another 5.4 million are internally displaced, “a displacement crisis not seen in Europe in decades,” he said.

Half of Ukrainian children have been forced from their homes, and face higher risks of violence, abuse and exploitation, he added.

In Pictures | A look back at the Russian invasion of Ukraine

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has already documented “dozens” of cases of sexual violence against men, women and girls that is tied to the war, he noted.

Thousands of health care facilities and schools have been damaged or shut, and vital infrastructure like water, energy and heating have been destroyed during a frigid winter.

“Nearly 10 million people, including 7.8 million children, are at risk of acute post-traumatic stress disorder,” Mr. Guterres said.

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was invited to address the council after Mr. Guterres spoke, accusing Russia of genocide and calling for the acceptance of Kyiv’s peace plan, which requires a full Russian withdrawal.

“The goal of the plan is to get Russia out of Ukraine and make the world a safer place,” he said.

In lieu of that, Mr. Kuleba warned, “Ukraine will resist as it has done so far.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin “is going to lose much sooner than he thinks.”

Mr. Kuleba called for minute of silence “in memory of the victims of the aggression.”

But Nebenzya momentarily delayed the tribute, insisting the remembrance “honour the memory of all the victims of what has happened in Ukraine,” stressing “all.”

The Security Council meeting was mainly symbolic. The U.N.’s most powerful body has met 40 times over the past year on the Ukraine war but has achieved little binding action due to permanent member Russia’s wielding of its veto power.

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