Today marks a year and a half since the Russian Federation launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Eighteen months of death, destruction, and unimaginable suffering for the Ukrainian people.
The numbers alone tell a horrific story: OHCHR has confirmed at least 9,444 civilians, including 545 children, killed. Nearly 17,000 others, among them 1,156 children, have been injured. The real figures are likely much higher. Some estimates put the total number of killed, civilians and military personnel of both sides, at half a million.
And there is no end in sight to this war, launched in violation of the principles of the UN Charter and international law. Indeed, since Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Initiative on July 17, the fighting has only escalated.
We are witnessing growing tensions and threats to the freedom of navigation in the Black Sea.
Brutal and relentless Russian attacks have damaged grain export infrastructure in Ukraine’s Black Sea and Danube ports, imperilling the export of foodstuffs desperately needed around the world.
On 27 July, Russian missiles struck port infrastructure in Odesa region, reportedly killing a security guard and damaging a cargo terminal.
On 28 July, Russian forces reportedly shelled a grain terminal in Beryslav district in Kherson region.
On 2 August, a drone attack hit the Danube port of Izmail, damaging about 40,000 tonnes of grain destined for countries in Africa as well as China and Israel, according to Ukrainian officials.
On 14 August, Russian drone and missile attacks reportedly injured at least three people in the port city of Odesa. The nearby port city of Mykolaiv was also targeted.
On 16 August, Russian drones reportedly damaged grain silos and warehouses at the Danube River port of Reni.
And just yesterday, as a result of another Russian drone attack in Odesa region, 13 thousand tons of grain were destroyed.
These are only a few of the most recent incidents.
As we warned during the Security Council meetings on 21 and 26 July, attacks targeting grain facilities may have far-reaching global consequences. They threaten to reverse the progress made in bolstering food security over the past year.
This could be catastrophic for the 345 million people already acutely food insecure around the world.
The Secretary-General continues to stress the importance of food and fertilizer exports from Russia and Ukraine to global food security and to advocate for the resumption of the Black Sea Initiative.
On 19 August, a Russian missile attack on the drama theatre in the heart of the city of Chernihiv took the lives of seven people, including a six-year-old girl, and injured more than a hundred others, among them at least 15 children.
Many of the victims were passers-by enjoying a Saturday morning with their families, with some on their way to church to celebrate an Orthodox Christian holiday.
In recent weeks, dozens of civilians have also been killed in attacks on Kherson, Odesa, Donetsk, Lviv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia and other regions of Ukraine.
In some instances, sequential, or double-tap, strikes have killed and injured not only civilian residents, but first responders who rushed to help.
We are also deeply disturbed by the destruction of a hotel used by the UN and other humanitarian staff in Zaporizhzhia on 10 August.
These heinous attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure are in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. They are unacceptable and must be strongly condemned.
Attacks against Ukrainian culture and heritage have also escalated. Since the beginning of the war, UNESCO has verified damage to 284 cultural sites, including 120 religious sites.
Following the attacks on 23 July that severely damaged the Historic Centre of Odesa, an area protected under the World Heritage Convention, UNESCO deployed an expert mission to conduct a damage assessment and to prepare for measures to stabilize and protect cultural assets from further deterioration.
Another recent UN assessment on the impact of the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam concluded that the breach caused a far-reaching environmental disaster, the scale of which might not be clear for decades to come.
Hundreds of square kilometres were inundated, and thousands of square kilometres of reservoir and wetlands desiccated, severely impacting the livelihoods of already struggling Ukrainian farmers.
The impact of the war on women has been devastating.
They represent the overwhelming majority of the 6.2 million people forced to move to other countries because of the violence.
The United Nations is ensuring gender mainstreaming in its humanitarian response, including promoting women’s empowerment and leadership, and prioritizing protection from gender-based violence.
Despite staggering challenges, Ukrainian women have stood at the forefront of humanitarian responses. Women-led civil society organizations were among the first to respond to the full-scale invasion.
To support these efforts, UN Women has allocated, through its Peace and Humanitarian Fund, over $14.6 million to finance over 120 civil society organizations that support women and girls inside Ukraine and those displaced in Moldova.
To date, the United Nations has verified 173 cases of conflict-related sexual violence against 112 men, 57 women, and four girls.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine has said that such incidents of sexual violence may amount to war crimes.
The massive human rights violations have not spared children.
Their schools and hospitals are destroyed jeopardizing their right to education and health. To date, OHCHR has verified 824 and 403 attacks on educational and medical facilities, respectively.
We welcome the signing on 18 August of a plan by the UN and the Government of Ukraine to prevent grave violations against children.
However, we regret that the UN still does not have the necessary access to verify allegations of violations against [Ukrainian] children in the territory of Ukraine under Russian control or in the Russian Federation itself, including children allegedly transferred to the Russian Federation.
We are also concerned about the possible impact on civilians of the shelling of Russian border communities and drone attacks deep inside Russia, including Moscow.
Attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure – wherever they may occur – are indefensible and strictly prohibited under international law.
Regarding humanitarian assistance, the UN and its partners continue to deliver aid to those in need.
Limited access to Russian controlled areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine hampers our aid operations. We continue to seek potential avenues to expand access to these areas.
The Ukraine Humanitarian Response Plan has now received over $1.7 billion – or 44 per cent – of the $3.9 billion required through the end of 2023. While we extend our gratitude to the generosity of donors, continued contributions are needed to ensure timely delivery of assistance, including through Ukraine’s harsh winter season.
Today’s grim milestone of 18 months of war coincides with the 32nd anniversary of Ukraine’s independence.
I would like to congratulate the Ukrainian people today and take this occasion to stress, once again, that the UN’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within it internationally recognized borders is unwavering.
Similarly, and recognizing the growing calls around the world for an end to the war, I reiterate the UN’s commitment to support all meaningful efforts to achieve a just and sustainable peace in Ukraine, in line with the UN Charter, international law and relevant General Assembly resolutions.