This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged the UN Security Council to seek full accountability for crimes that he says were committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.
Zelenskiy spoke to the council on April 5, providing graphic details of events that took place in the town of Bucha, where he said entire families were killed indiscriminately, particularly those who had served Ukrainian forces in some capacity.
People “were killed in their apartments, houses…civilians were crushed by tanks while sitting in their cars in the middle of the road, just for [the Russian soldiers’] pleasure. They cut off limbs…slashed their throats,” Zelenskiy told the 15-member council in a live video address.
“Women were raped and killed in front of their children, their tongues were pulled out only because the aggressors did not hear what they wanted to hear from them,” he said. “This is no different from other terrorists such as Daesh (Islamic State)…and here it is done by a member of the United Nations Security Council.”
He said the crimes committed in Bucha were “the most terrible war crimes” since World War II and that Bucha was “only one of many examples of what the occupiers have been doing on our land for the last 41 days.”
Zelenskiy, who spoke one day after visiting Bucha, said that wherever Russian troops have been deployed, ruins and mass graves have been left behind.
Zelenskiy added that “tens of thousands” of Ukrainians had been deported to Russia, saying that Russia “need[s] our wealth, our people,” and he accused Russian soldiers of stealing everything from food to gold earrings from Ukrainians.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, who spoke to the council after Zelenskiy, denied the claim of mass deportations and that Russian forces have targeted civilians.
“Now, overall, since the beginning of the special military operation, over 600,000 people have been evacuated to Russia, including over 119,000 children,” Vasily Nebenzya said.
“And we’re not talking about any kind of coercion or abduction, as our Western partners like to present this, but rather the voluntary decision by these people as testified by many of these videos that are accessible in social media,” he told the council.
The Ukrainian president called on the United Nations not only to act immediately to bring Russia to account for the deaths of civilians in Bucha, but also to expel Russia from the council, which has been unable to take any action beyond passing nonbinding resolutions over Russia’s invasion because Moscow holds veto power.
“We are dealing with a state that turns its veto at the UN Security Council into the right to [cause] death,” Zelenskiy said.
He said the United Nations must take a hard look at itself and ask whether the time of international law is over. He called for reform of the UN Charter and an international war crimes tribunal similar to the one that judged the Nazis after World War II.
“The United Nations can be simply closed. Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to close the UN? And the time of international law is gone?” he asked. “If your answer is no, then you need to act immediately.”
His address came after global outrage over the discoveries of civilian victims in Bucha after Russian troops withdrew. U.S. President Joe Biden has called for a war crimes trial, and the United States and Britain have called for the removal of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
“What we’ve seen in Bucha is not the random act of a rogue unit. It’s a deliberate campaign to kill, to torture, to rape, to commit atrocities,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said before leaving for a NATO meeting in Europe.
Bucha Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk said in an interview that the massacre was the Russians’ revenge for the resistance that the Ukrainian people have shown.
“My people were shot for fun or out of anger,” Fedoruk told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper. “The Russians shot at everything that moved: passersby, people on bicycles, cars marked ‘children.'”
Washington and the European Union have promised more economic sanctions aimed at forcing President Vladimir Putin to halt the war.
The EU announced a fifth package of measures that would target oil and coal exports and prohibit Russian ships from entering European ports, while the U.S. Treasury Department said Russia would no longer be able to pay its foreign debt with dollars held in American banks.