The war in Ukraine is approaching its one-year anniversary, with no end in sight to the fighting or the suffering.
Throughout the holiday season, the forces of the Russian Federation continued their strikes on key Ukrainian cities. Too many Ukrainians spent what is normally a festive period in bomb shelters. Far from celebrating, countless families across the country were mourning the loss of loved ones.
On the morning of 29 December, Russian forces launched more Ukraine-wide attacks targeting regions including Dnipro, Kherson, Kirovohrad, and Kyiv. Multiple strikes were reported in the cites of Kharkiv, Odesa, Lviv, Zhytomyr, as well as Kyiv.
Two days later, on New Year’s Eve, Ukraine's all administrative regions were again under air raid warnings.
The attacks have continued in the new year despite the announcement of a possible cessation of hostilities over Orthodox Christmas, a holy period for both Russians and Ukrainians.
On 6 January, an emergency worker was killed in an attack on a fire station in the city of Kherson. The next day, several regions in the east and south of Ukraine were shelled.
Ground fighting has intensified, especially in the Donetsk region. In areas of active hostilities such as Bakhmut and Soledar, relentless battles, including street fighting, pose a great threat to the remaining civilian population.
In Bakhmut alone, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has documented 22 civilians killed and 72 injured since early December.
Following the most recent fighting, OHCHR has verified 18,096 civilian casualties since Russia’s invasion of 24 February 2022. This total includes 6,952 people killed and 11,144 injured. The actual figures are likely considerably higher.
The war has forced millions to flee their homes. We commend the generosity of the countries hosting some 7.9 million people who sought protection in Europe. We encourage further efforts to ensure equitable access to rights and services for refugees in national systems.
In Ukraine some 5.91 million people, 65 per cent of them women and girls, are internally displaced.
Fuelling the displacement is the purposeful, systematic targeting of critical civilian infrastructure, including energy and healthcare facilities.
Following a request from Ukraine to the Secretary General, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has launched a sector-specific damage assessment in collaboration with the World Bank.
The assessment, which aims at identifying the most critical needs for restoration of damaged energy infrastructure, is currently underway, with 90 per cent of the data collection completed.
The number of recorded attacks on healthcare facilities last year was the highest in the world. There were 745 incidents as of 4 January.
In the most affected regions in the east and south of the country, reportedly 15 per cent of facilities are either partially or completely non-functional, and up to 50 per cent in Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv.
Inevitably, the war is also leaving invisible scars. According to the World Health Organization, nearly a quarter of the population is reportedly at risk of developing a mental health condition because of this war.
The destruction and closing of schools will also have a lasting impact on children and young people. An estimated 5.7 million school-aged children have been directly affected, including 3.6 million due to the closure of educational institutions early in the conflict.
In recent months, aid organizations have continued efforts to expand life-saving operations to previously inaccessible areas, including in Kharkiv and Kherson regions.
As of 5 January, humanitarian partners have provided food to almost 9 million people. The same number of people have received critical healthcare support across the country.
Around 7.3 million people have been assisted with access to clean water and hygiene products. Over 3 million people uprooted by the war or those whose houses have been damaged have received emergency shelter or critical household items.
In response to the energy crisis, humanitarian partners have distributed hundreds of generators to make sure critical services like hospitals and schools, as well as centres hosting those displaced, can continue operating.
In all, since 24 February of last year almost 14 million people have received assistance from over 740 partners. This includes 1 million people in areas not under the control of the Government of Ukraine.
But the humanitarian response is hampered by severe access constraints, particularly in areas in the east under Russian control. In line with international humanitarian law, parties must facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for all civilians in need.
OHCHR continues to document allegations of grave human rights violations and to support efforts towards accountability.
Since 24 February, OHCHR has documented over 90 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, falling into two categories:
the majority as a method of torture and ill-treatment in detention, predominantly affecting men;
and sexual violence involving rape, including gang rape, of women and girls in areas under Russian control.
It is imperative that all perpetrators of human rights violations are held accountable.
On the question of accountability, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court continues its work in Ukraine, where it has maintained a presence since May 2022.
As the Prosecutor has indicated in his briefings to the Council, the alleged targeting of civilian objects and the unlawful transfer and deportation of civilians, including children, from Ukraine to the Russian Federation, are the investigative priorities of his Office.
On a positive note, we welcome the ongoing contacts and commitment of the parties to continue exchanges of prisoners of war, most recently on Sunday involving 50 Ukrainian and 50 Russian captives.
We are encouraged by the meeting hosted in Türkiye on 11 January between the Russian and Ukrainian ombudspersons on this issue.
Despite the challenging context, the Black Sea Grain Initiative continues to make a difference, including by helping bring global food prices down. The Food and Agriculture Organization now reports a continued decline of its Food Price Index.
More than 17 million metric tons of foodstuffs have now been moved under the Initiative, reaching, or on the way to, some 43 countries.
Roughly 20 per cent of this total is for countries categorized by the World Bank as low-income or lower-middle-income economies.
The United Nations also continues its engagement with all stakeholders to remove remaining obstacles to Russian food and fertilizer exports, including ammonia. These exports are key to keep prices down and mitigate food insecurity, and we urge all concerned to work to that end.
As the Secretary-General has made clear, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law.
It has created a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe, traumatized a generation of children, and accelerated the global food and energy crises. And yet, this grave damage could pale in comparison with the consequences of a prolonged conflict.
I said at the outset of my statement that there is no sign of an end to the fighting. The logic that prevails is a military one, with very little, if any, room for dialogue right now.
But all wars end, and so too will this one. Ukraine, Russia, the world cannot afford for this war to continue. The Secretary-General is ready to assist the parties to end this senseless, unjustified conflict, on the basis of the United Nations Charter and international law.
Thank you, Mr. President