With the war in Ukraine showing no signs of letting up, countries must increase efforts to prevent further escalation and end the fighting, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told Foreign Ministers meeting in the Security Council on Thursday.
The conflict, now in its seventh month, has also sparked a global food, energy and finance crisis that is pushing more people into extreme poverty and hunger, and growing fears of potential nuclear disaster.
“As I have said from the start, this senseless war has unlimited potential to do terrible harm – in Ukraine, and around the world,” the UN chief recalled.
“There is only one way to end the suffering in Ukraine – and that is by ending the war.”
The Secretary-General described yesterday’s news that more than 250 prisoners of war were exchanged between Ukraine and Russia as a welcome development.
“I commend the efforts of both parties and hope that they will build on this with further exchanges aiming at an ‘all for all’ formula,” he said, thanking Türkiye and Saudi Arabia for their role in securing the agreement.
‘Unspeakable suffering and devastation’
The meeting was held on the margins of the annual debate in the UN General Assembly and brought together Foreign Ministers from countries serving on the 15-member Council, Ukraine, the European Union, and other nations.
Mr. Guterres said the war has caused “unspeakable suffering and devastation” in Ukraine, and latest developments - including the potential for nuclear catastrophe - will only lead to “an endless cycle of horror and bloodshed.”
Thousands of civilians have been killed or injured, hundreds of them children, while some 14 million people have been forced to flee.
“Every day, an average of five children are killed or injured. Almost every child in Ukraine has been scarred by the nightmare of war, from violence to family separation,” he said.
‘Catalogue of cruelty’
The UN human rights office, OHCHR, has also documented reports of “a catalogue of cruelty”, including summary executions, sexual violence, torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment against civilians and prisoners of war.
Latest accounts of burial sites in the city of Izyum are “extremely disturbing”, he added.
A Fact-Finding Mission into the deadly blast at a detention facility in Olenivka in July has been established, and members are ready to deploy “as soon as all necessary assurances are received”.
Responding to needs
Meanwhile, the UN continues to work to alleviate the suffering, including through the Secretary-General’s direct engagement with the Russian and Ukrainian Presidents.
The Organization and aid partners have so far delivered humanitarian aid to nearly 13 million people.
With support from Türkiye, the UN also brokered a landmark deal in July to resume food and fertilizer exports from three Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea.
Since then, more than 4.3 million metric tonnes of food have been transported to nearly 30 countries. This includes supplies for World Food Programme (WFP) operations in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Yemen.
“It is vital that these food shipments continue and increase, so commodity markets further stabilize,” he said.
The Council also heard from Karim Khan, Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which investigates genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The ICC opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine just weeks after the war began. Staff are continuing their forensic work and have maintained a presence in the country since May.
“Through this work, a picture will emerge. And the picture that I've seen so far is troubling indeed,” said Mr. Khan.
“I have been to Ukraine three times, and one has seen a variety of destruction, of suffering and harm that fortifies my determination, and my previous finding, that there are reasonable grounds to believe the crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed.”
Protecting international order
Russia’s war in Ukraine has prompted “remarkable unity” among countries, according to Antony Blinken, Secretary of State in the Biden Administration.
He said defending Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity is about much more than standing up for a country’s right to choose its own path
“Fundamental as that right is, it's also about protecting an international order, where no nation can redraw the borders of another by force,” said Mr. Blinken.
“If we fail to defend this principle, when the Kremlin is so flagrantly violating it, we send a message to aggressors everywhere that they can ignore it, too. We put every country at risk. We open the door to a less secure, a less peaceful world.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the basis of the meeting itself, saying that crimes committed during the eight-year war in eastern Ukraine have gone unpunished.
“Over the past few years, the Kyiv regime has conducted a frontal assault on the Russian language in brazenly trampling on the rights of Russian and Russian-speaking people in Ukraine,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Mr. Lavrov reported that the Ministry of Education has excluded Russian language and literature from the school curriculum.
“Books are being destroyed just as in Nazi Germany, and ethnic Russians are being subjected to intolerance. And today, the officials from Ukraine have no longer even tried to hide their anti-Russian feelings, calling on the killing of Russians,” he said.
Furthermore, his country has “no confidence” in the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), “and we don't expect anything more from this institution or a whole range of other international institutions.”
‘No peace without justice’
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, was adamant that Russia will not win the war.
“Today, every Ukrainian is a weapon ready to defend Ukraine and the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. Russia will fail and will bear full responsibility for the crime of aggression and consequent war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide,” he said.
Mr. Kuleba also was confident that justice will be served as national authorities, their partners and countries that support Ukraine, are working with the ICC to collect evidence of crimes committed during the war.
“We owe it not only to thousands of victims, but to future generations in Ukraine and beyond. There will be no peace without justice,” he said.