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Zelenskyy tells U.N. of Russian atrocities

Ukraine's president demanded full accountability for Russian forces committing the "most terrible war crimes" since World War II.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the U.N. Security Council
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the U.N. Security Council (AN/U.N. Web TV)

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded full accountability for the "most terrible war crimes" committed since World War II as he described Russia's atrocities in his besieged nation during his first address to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

His brief video address to the U.N.'s most powerful body emphasized that Russian troops are deliberately killing Ukrainian civilians and those responsible for giving the orders should immediately be brought up on war crimes charges before a tribunal like the Nuremberg trials held by the Allies after World War II.

“This undermines the whole architecture of global security,” said Zelenskyy, comparing Russia’s atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine — where videos and photos showed corpses in the streets — with the killings, rapes and mutiliations by ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

“Now the world can see what Russia did in Bucha,” he said. “They cut off limbs, cut their throats. Women were raped and killed in front of their children. Their tongues were pulled out only because their aggressor did not hear what they wanted to hear from them."

Zelenskyy questioned whether the 15-nation council meeting in New York remains a legitimate force for peace if it "cannot work effectively" any longer because of the frequent deadlock over disagreements among its five permanent, veto-wielding members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. He pointed out that Article 1 of the U.N. Charter calls for maintaining the peace — and if that can't be done, it calls into question the world body's entire reason for being.

“Bucha is one of the many examples of what the occupiers have been doing on our land for 41 days,” Zelenskyy said of Russia's full-scale invasion since February 24. “Where is the security that the Security Council is supposed to be guaranteed?”

A 'cynical and outright lie'

The killings in Bucha were revealed after Russian military forces withdrew from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, and have led to calls for Russia to be suspended from the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia denied Russian troops committed atrocities in Bucha, saying they were instead the work of Ukrainian nationalists. While Bucha was under Russian control "not a single civilian suffered from any kind of violence," he said.

Ukraine's U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya countered that Russia was spreading disinformation through a "cynical and outright lie" about targeting civilians.

In Geneva, Elizabeth Throssell, a spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters her office did not yet have access to Bucha so it did not have direct knowledge of what happened there. She said photos strongly suggest civilians were directly targeted, which is a war crime under international humanitarian law.

A day earlier, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was horrified by images of civilians lying dead on the streets and in improvised graves at Bucha.

"Reports emerging from this and other areas raise serious and disturbing questions about possible war crimes as well as grave breaches of international humanitarian law and serious violations of international human rights law," said Bachelet, a former president of Chile who heads OHCHR.

"It is essential that all bodies are exhumed and identified so that victims’ families can be informed, and the exact causes of death established. All measures should be taken to preserve evidence," she said. "It is vital that all efforts are made to ensure there are independent and effective investigations into what happened in Bucha to ensure truth, justice and accountability, as well as reparations and remedy for victims and their families."

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova has said that 410 civilian bodies were found in Bucha and other Russian-occupied towns near Kyiv that Ukrainian forces recaptured. "Torture chamber was discovered in a children's sanatorium in Bucha by prosecutors and Kyiv Regional police officers," she said. "We will establish all the circumstances of war crimes committed by the Russian Federation, the persons involved and bring them to justice."