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World is "on the brink of the third year of the gravest armed conflict in Europe since the Second World War -- with no end in sight", USG tells Council on Ukraine




New York, 10 January 2024


Thank you, Mr. President,

The new year has brought no respite to Ukraine. On the contrary, in recent weeks, the country has been suffering some of the worst attacks since the beginning of the illegal war.

Over the holiday period, Russian missiles and drones targeted numerous locations across the country, including in Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Khmelnytskyi, Dnipropetrovsk, Sumy, Cherkasy, Odesa and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine.

In Kherson, apartment buildings and a medical facility, as well as a railway station packed with more than a hundred civilians awaiting evacuation, were struck. Similarly, almost daily shelling has been reported across part of the Kharkiv region.

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified 29,522 civilian casualties: 10,233 people killed, including 575 children, and 19,289 injured, including 1,260 children. 

Just between 29 December and 2 January, OHCHR recorded 519 civilian casualties –  96 people killed and 423 injured.

On 29 December alone, 58 civilians were killed and 158 injured in country-wide Russian drone and missile strikes. This was the highest number of civilian casualties in a single day in all of 2023.

Meanwhile, on 30 December, in the city of Belgorod in the Russian Federation, at least 25 civilians were reportedly killed, and more than 100 others injured in strikes attributed to Ukraine. Cross-border attacks have reportedly continued in recent days prompting some civilians to evacuate from Belgorod.

On Saturday, 7 January, 11 civilians, including five children, were reportedly killed in a missile strike in the town of Pokrovsk in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities attributed the attack to Russian armed forces.

Civilians in frontline communities bear the heaviest burden of the missile, drone and artillery barrages. Sixty-nine per cent of all civilian casualties are recorded in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine.

The impact of the war on children is particularly appalling. Since the start of the war, nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children were forced to flee their homes – some of them alone, making them even more vulnerable. An estimated 1.5 million children are at risk of post-traumatic stress and other mental health conditions.

Mr. President,

In addition to killing, maiming and displacing thousands of people, missile and drone strikes in densely populated urban areas are causing severe damage to civilian infrastructure. 

Recent Russian attacks damaged or destroyed at least eight schools and ten healthcare facilities, including a maternity hospital.  In total, seven thousand schools remain inaccessible to children, restricting their right to education.

My colleague from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will provide further details on the humanitarian situation in the country, emphasizing the urgent need for UN response to hundreds of thousands of people left without electricity and water supply in frigid weather.

We unequivocally condemn all attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, wherever they occur and whoever carries them out.

Such acts violate international humanitarian law and must cease immediately.

Mr President,

Even as the fighting rages, Ukrainians are working on rebuilding their lives and homes, investing in areas less exposed to direct hostilities. 

The UN, in coordination with government partners, continues to support local recovery efforts, including in the energy sector, striving for durable solutions.  

As the number of refugees from Ukraine reaches 6.3 million globally, with 5.9 million across Europe, the UNHCR surveys indicate that nearly 80 per cent hope to return to Ukraine.

However, security concerns and access to basic services, housing, and livelihoods remain paramount. Therefore, continued support for refugees in countries hosting them is crucial.

Mr. President,

Amid the nearly unrelenting grim news from the war, one recent development stood out as positive.

On 3 January, a long-awaited exhange of more than 200 prisoners of war on each side took place between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. This was the largest such exchange since February 2022. 

As the Secretary-General noted, we commend the efforts of both parties and the third-party facilitation by the United Arab Emirates.

While acknowledging this positive development, we remain gravely concerned about the situation of the remaining prisoners of war.

All concerned parties must uphold international law, particularly international humanitarian law, in their treatment of prisoners of war. 

Accountability for all human rights violations remains paramount, requiring adherence to international standards and a survivor-centred approach.

In areas of Ukraine under Russian control, impunity for serious human rights violations, including killings, disappearances, and torture, feeds a climate of fear.

Also in occupied territory, Ukrainian nationals, including children, are under pressure to acquire Russian citizenship after a new law classified them as foreigners in their own country.

Without a Russian passport, these Ukrainians face limits in accessing health care, social services, and employment.

We also remain deeply concerned about the well-being of Ukrainian children taken to the Russian Federation. We emphasize the urgent need for their immediate return to their families in Ukraine.

Mr. President,     

The situation in and around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) remains gravely worrying. Since August 2022, the Plant has suffered eight instances of complete loss of off-site power.  

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continues to monitor the situation at the Plant. However, despite repeated requests to the Russian authorities, IAEA experts have not been granted access to all parts of the site.

At the Rivne, Khmelnitsky and South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plants and the Chernobyl site, IAEA experts continue to report that nuclear safety and security is being maintained, despite wide-ranging missile attacks nearby.

Attacks between 29 December 2023 and 2 January this year forced experts at the Khmelnitsky Plant to take shelter three times.         

The denial of full access to IAEA experts and the danger caused by repeated attacks around nuclear sites are worrying and should concern us all.

Mr. President,

Since the start of the full-scale invasion, this Council has met more than 100 times in various formats to discuss the harrowing consequences of the war.

We have heard numerous testimonies about the horrors endured by Ukrainian civilians. We have consistently voiced clear warnings about the risks of further escalation and spill-over outside Ukraine’s borders and even beyond.

And yet, here we are, on the brink of the third year of the gravest armed conflict in Europe since the Second World War -- with no end in sight. The toll of this senseless war - in death, destruction and destabilization – is already catastrophic. It is terrifying to contemplate where it could lead us. It must stop.

Our commitment remains steadfast to support all meaningful endeavours aimed at a just, sustainable, and comprehensive peace – in line with the UN Charter, international law and the resolutions of the General Assembly.

Thank you, Mr. President.