With the devastating toll of war on Ukraine’s children becoming clearer each day, humanitarian efforts — punctuated by several “monumental” recent evacuations of trapped civilians — must continue to scale up, officials told the Security Council today, as the representatives of Kyiv and Moscow traded accusations of attacks on schools and educational indoctrination.
“The war in Ukraine, like all wars, is a child protection and child rights crisis,” said Omar Abdi, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who was one of two officials briefing the 15-member Council. In the last month, he said, the United Nations has verified nearly 100 child deaths from the fighting, with an actual figure that is likely to be considerably higher. Many more have been injured, displaced and face grave violations of their rights. Meanwhile, schools across Ukraine have been hit by heavy artillery, air strikes and other explosive weapons, or used for military purposes.
Spotlighting the severe impact on education, he said schools are a lifeline for children in conflict, providing protection from harm and a semblance of normalcy. Creative, multifaceted and flexible solutions combining low- and high-tech methods are urgently needed to reach all children and minimize disruptions to their learning. However, remote learning can only be a temporary solution, he noted, emphasizing that the warring parties must honour their legal and moral obligations to protect civilians and ensure the rights of children — including the right to attend school — are upheld. In that vein, he recalled the Council’s adoption of resolution 2601 (2021), which condemned attacks on schools and stressed the critical right to education in conflict settings.
Echoing those points was Joyce Msuya, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who updated the Council on efforts to negotiate more humanitarian pauses for the safe passage of civilians trapped by the fighting in Ukraine. On 9 May, she said, the United Nations, together with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), were able to evacuate another 174 civilians from the Azovstal steel plant and other parts of Mariupol, “a truly monumental feat amid the shelling and destruction ongoing in the east”. Describing the operation as a glimmer of hope, she nevertheless said the war continues to rage, with civilians paying the heaviest price.
Noting that the use of landmines and wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas is having a devastating effect, she added that nearly 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes, of whom 8 million are internally displaced. The United Nations and its partners have provided humanitarian assistance to over 5.4 million people, while five inter-agency convoys carrying essential medical supplies, water, food, water repair systems and generators have provided a lifeline to civilians encircled by fighting. But that is by no means enough, she said, noting that efforts are under way to discuss the further safe passage of civilians. “We must urgently take our efforts to scale,” she stressed.
As Council members took the floor, many emphasized the need to adhere to the critical international legal principle of civilian protection, while spotlighting the particular plight of Ukrainian children.
The representative of Brazil emphasized that schools and medical facilities should never be used for military purposes, while urging the implementation of resolution 2601 (2021) on the protection of education and the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration. Expressing alarm at the number of Ukrainian children who have become internally displaced persons and refugees, he called for support from the international community, especially to those children who are unaccompanied or separated from their families. For its part, Brazil has been granting humanitarian visas and residence permits for displaced Ukrainians and stateless persons affected or displaced by the conflict, he said.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates, lamenting the costs of conflict on children across the globe, called for a redoubling of efforts and commitment to ensure educational access. Education must be a priority as the international community responds to the urgent humanitarian needs in Ukraine, she said, noting that the protection of children — and all civilians — can only be assured through a cessation of hostilities and a diplomatic resolution. In that regard, she called on both sides to remain committed to dialogue and on the international community to support efforts to end the war.
More broadly, Kenya’s representative voiced concern “that the Council is settling into a familiar, tragic pattern” in the context of the Ukrainian conflict. Far too much energy and attention are being used to make and defend accusations of violations of international law. While efforts to advance humanitarian aims are critically important, he emphasized that they are not the Council’s primary responsibility and urged members to make every effort to find a path to a negotiated peace in Ukraine. He joined other speakers in condemning recent attacks on civilians, including the reported bombing of a school in Luhansk, while drawing the Council’s attention to the conflict’s impact on economies and vulnerable people around the globe — particularly in the global South.
The representative of Ukraine, pointing out that Russian strikes continued even as the recent evacuation of the Azovstal steel plant was under way, described hypocrisy in many of Moscow’s public statements on the plight of civilians and children. Some 130 Ukrainian educational facilities have been destroyed and more than 1,500 damaged by Russian forces to date, he said, noting that such acts are violations of international law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Meanwhile, more than a million children have been transferred to the Russian Federation, where their safety remains unknown. Welcoming the Human Rights Council’s launch of a commission of inquiry into crimes committed by the Russian Federation, he went on to condemn Moscow’s cynical use of the victory over Nazis in the Second World War to justify its current aggression, declaring: “Today’s standards of Russian diplomacy have gone through the floor, and all masks are off.”
The Russian Federation’s representative said the Council’s focus on education is critical as Kyiv has used indoctrination and educational discrimination as tools of war against its own population for years. Between 2014 and 2022, there were more than 200 incidents of education facilities being damaged in the Luhansk People’s Republic, and today, schools are once again under attack by Ukrainian forces. Noting that Russian armed forces are making every effort to protect children in the course of their special military operation in Ukraine, he rejected allegations to the contrary and questioned the sources of such information. He also voiced concern over double standards in which humanitarian law “exists for everyone, but not Kyiv”.
Also speaking were representatives of Mexico, France, Albania, Ghana, Norway, United Kingdom, Ireland, China, Gabon, India, United States, Estonia (on behalf of the Baltic States), Poland and Slovakia.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:30 p.m.
JOYCE MSUYA, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, updated the Security Council on United Nations joint efforts to negotiate more humanitarian pauses for the safe passage of civilians trapped by the fighting in Ukraine. On 9 May, the United Nations, together with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), were able to evacuate another 174 civilians from the Azovstal steel plant and other parts of Mariupol, she said. This was the third operation in the past week out of Mariupol, bringing the total number of civilians evacuated from the steel plant, Mariupol and neighbouring towns to over 600. “A truly monumental feat amid the shelling and destruction ongoing in the east,” she said, calling it a glimmer of hope.
Yet, the war continues on its destructive path, she said, with civilians, particularly women and children, paying the heaviest price. Noting recent reports of the shelling of a school in Bilohorivkain Luhansk oblast, where women and children were seeking shelter from the fighting, she said the use of wide-area explosive weapons in those areas comes with a very high risk of indiscriminate effects and must be avoided. Noting that landmines and unexploded ordnance significantly impacts humanitarian response and access, she pointed out that, even before the war, eastern Ukraine was one of the most mine-contaminated regions in the world. Urging support for mine action to open up humanitarian space, she stressed that under international humanitarian law, the parties must respect all civilians, as well as their homes, schools, hospitals and other essential infrastructure. Constant care must be taken to spare them and allow them to leave areas of hostilities voluntarily and safely, she said, drawing attention to the needs of women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Also, any barriers to the movement of humanitarian staff must be removed to ensure the continued delivery of life-saving assistance across Ukraine.
Turning to the latest figures, she said almost 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes, of whom 8 million are internally displaced. A total of 227 partners, the majority of which are national non-governmental organizations, have provided humanitarian assistance to over 5.4 million people, many of those in the east. In addition to the evacuations from the Azovstal plant and Mariupol, five inter-agency convoys, including essential medical supplies, water, food rations, non-food-items, water repair systems and generators, have provided a lifeline to civilians encircled by fighting. This is by no means enough, she said. Both parties have been notified of those convoys, she said, urging them to continue their facilitation efforts so many more civilians can be reached. “We must urgently take our efforts to scale. Our recent efforts to evacuate civilians in the east have shown us that there is goodwill and common ground for us to build on between the parties,” she said.
As requested by the Secretary-General, Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, is exploring ways to bring the parties together to discuss humanitarian issues including safe passage for civilians and the movement of humanitarian convoys, she said. Earlier this week, Mr. Griffiths was in Turkey where discussions with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, and Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin focused on the country’s support to United Nations efforts towards pressing humanitarian concerns in Ukraine. All options must be explored to reach more people where needs are the greatest. “We remain firmly committed to leaving no stone unturned. To find measures — from local pauses to wider ceasefires — to save lives. The world expects this of us. The people of Ukraine deserve this,” she concluded.
OMAR ABDI, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said it has been a month since the agency last briefed the Council on the situation in Ukraine. In that time, the United Nations verified that nearly 100 children were killed, “and we believe the actual figures to be considerably higher”. Children have been injured and face grave violations of their rights, and millions more have been displaced. Schools continue to be attacked and used for military purposes and water and sanitation infrastructure impacted. “The war in Ukraine, like all wars, is a child protection and child rights crisis,” he said.
“We meet again after another horrifying attack, this time on a school in Luhansk — yet another stark example of disregard for civilian lives,” he said. That attack is also a stark reminder that in Ukraine today, education is also under attack. In February, the school year came to a standstill when the war broke out. As of last week, at least one in six UNICEF-supported schools in eastern Ukraine had been damaged or destroyed since the start of the war. Hundreds of schools across the country are reported to have been hit by heavy artillery, air strikes and other explosive weapons in populated areas, while others are being used as information centres, shelters, supply hubs or for military purposes — with long term impacts on children’s return to education.
Emphasizing that such actions must stop, he said all parties must honour their legal and moral obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, to respect international humanitarian and human rights law and to ensure the rights of children are upheld. The Council recently adopted resolution 2601 (2021), which condemns attacks on schools and calls for all necessary safeguards to uphold the right to education. Meanwhile, the Safe Schools Declaration outlines what is needed to enhance protection of education in conflict. “What is needed now is the courage, discipline and political will to translate these words into action,” he said.
Describing schools as a lifeline for children — especially in conflict — he said they provide protection from harm and a semblance of normalcy. As such, he called for creative, multifaceted and flexible solutions that combine low- and high-tech methods to reach all children and minimize disruptions to their learning. In mid-March, over 15,000 schools resumed education in Ukraine, mostly through remote learning or in-person hybrid options. The Ministry of Education and Science, supported by UNICEF and partners, is doing everything possible to reach Ukrainian children, including supporting online education from kindergarten through grade 11. UNICEF is also supporting an ongoing digital campaign on explosive ordnance risk education and provision of education-related supplies.
However, he said, remote learning can only be a temporary solution. Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic show the importance of children learning in a school setting with their peers and teachers. Outlining educational initiatives across the broader region — including those carried out under the European Union’s Temporary Protection Directive — he said every effort must be made to reach those most at risk of being left behind. Children and parents fleeing Ukraine report “living in hell” in conditions where they were forced to go hungry, drink from muddy puddles and shelter from constant shelling and bombardments. The war has also had a devastating impact on the most vulnerable children globally, as world food and fuel prices spike to all-time highs. Emphasizing that children have already paid an unconscionably high price in the war, he declared: “We must do everything possible to help ensure it doesn’t also cost them their futures.”
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico) said attacks against schools, notably in Luhansk, are reprehensible, stressing that such attacks violate international humanitarian law. The use of explosive weapons near schools and the access routes thereto must be avoided. The war’s impact on children is “simply devastating”, she said, recalling that two thirds of children in Ukraine have been displaced by the conflict. The trauma does not discriminate. The constant bombing will have long-term effects. She underscored the need for comprehensive strategies to address this scourge, expressing concern over increased reports of sexual violence against children, while the conflict’s effects on health facilities are reducing neonatal care. She called on host countries, as well as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), to register and identify refugee minors. She also drew attention to children with disabilities, whose vulnerability is all the more acute. “Any war is a war against children,” she assured. “This is no exception.” Ukraine must be included in the next annual report on children and armed conflict in order to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism, as well as list those responsible for grave violations against children and address the situation in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said 200 medical facilities have been destroyed while the murder of children is among the most serious violations of international law. The Secretary-General must harness all mechanisms established by the Security Council to verify the facts and establish responsibility, including through his annual report and its “infamous list”, on which those who attack children and schools belong. “These crimes will not go unpunished,” he said, underscoring that France will provide its full support to Ukrainian justice and international courts, including the International Criminal Court. “It is urgent to act,” he said. He called on the Russian Federation to respect the International Court of Justice order to end the unjustifiable war and to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Stressing that the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure is a priority, he reiterated the call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and emphasized that respect for international humanitarian law is non-negotiable. He called on parties to cooperate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry. Pressing the Russian Federation to lift its blockade against Ukraine’s ports to allow for the export of foodstuffs, he pledged that France will continue to support Ukraine, with aid standing around $2 billion, as announced by President Emanuel Macron at the Warsaw Conference on 5 May.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said that as the war intensifies, so too does the magnitude of suffering. The 4 million people displaced two months ago has grown to 5.8 million, with new projections soon to reach 8.3 million, requiring more support for refugees and host countries. The massive destruction of civilian infrastructure and health facilities has affected the provision of the most basic services. It is unbearable to see what was once a school reduced to rubble, he said, stressing that an average 22 schools a day have been under regular attack since the start of the war. He recalled that more than 60 people were feared dead after the Russian Federation flattened a school in Bilohorivka, in Luhansk. “There is no justification for such recklessness,” he emphasized. Reports and preliminary facts raise serious concerns of grave breaches of international humanitarian law. The recent report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Moscow Mechanism cites a range of war crimes, from rape and torture to the use of human shields, marking a step on the long road to understanding the suffering experienced during the ongoing aggression. It concludes that two blatant attacks — the bombing of a Mariupol maternity hospital and the Mariupol drama theatre — were found to have violated international humanitarian law and that those who ordered them had committed a crime. He called on the Secretary-General and the Special Representative to add Ukraine as “a situation of concern” in the 2022 annual report on children and armed conflict, given the crimes committed between 2014 and 2021 and the evidence of an alarming increase in violations since late February. Thorough investigations must be carried out and accountability ensured. “It is possible to silence the guns in the name of life, when there is the will,” he assured. The sooner the war comes to an end, the better for Ukraine, the better for Russians to get out of a self-victimization attitude, and the better for everyone, everywhere.
CAROLYN OPPONG-NTIRI (Ghana) echoed concerns about the lack of satisfactory progress in finding a solution to the situation in Ukraine, adding that it is disheartening that innocent children have been caught up in the conflict. Strongly condemning the bombing of a school building in Luhansk, which resulted in significant civilian casualties, she said perpetrators of such attacks must be held accountable for their actions. She sounded alarm over the devastating psychological impacts of the conflict, especially on children, and reiterated that their mental well-being and safety “should be our utmost concern” and remain at the forefront of the international community’s actions. As such, host and transit countries for Ukrainian refugees must prioritize the best interests of children, including by providing learning opportunities. She also encouraged the continued deployment of the Secretary-General’s good offices in the international endeavour to bring an end to the war and facilitate a diplomatic solution to the ongoing security and humanitarian crises.
MICHAEL KIBOINO (Kenya) expressed concern “that the Council is settling into a familiar, tragic pattern” in the context of the conflict in Ukraine. Far too much energy and attention are being used to make and defend accusations of violations of international humanitarian law. “We are forced to restate the obvious — that our primary responsibility, as the Security Council, is to protect international peace and security. While efforts to advance the humanitarian aims in conflict are critically important, they are not the Council’s primary responsibility. He therefore urged the Council to make every effort to find a path to negotiating peace for Ukraine and its suffering people, and which respects and protects that country’s rights as a United Nations Member State. Condemning recent attacks on civilian objects, including the reported bombing of a school in Luhansk, he went on to stress that the war is impacting economies and vulnerable people around the world and appealed for enhanced support for humanitarian crisis, particularly in the global South.
TRINE HEIMERBACK (Norway) condemned in the strongest terms the Russian Federation’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine, which has created a “humanitarian disaster”. Stressing that Moscow is solely responsible, she said the Council’s recent joint expression of support to the Secretary-General’s effort to search for peaceful solutions is a first step towards ending the crisis. Citing devastating attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure and their unacceptable impacts on children, families and communities, she condemned the use of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions — weapons that will continue to kill and injure long after the conflict ends — as well as recent Russian attacks on schools and the civilians seeking shelter there. Those show a blatant disrespect for international humanitarian law and are clearly contrary to Council resolution 2601 (2021) on the protection of education in conflict. All civilians must have access to humanitarian assistance and safe passage for voluntary evacuation to safety, she said, adding that Norway is also concerned by increasing reports of conflict-related sexual violence.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) noted that while it will take time for the United Nations monitoring and reporting mechanism to establish the extent of the impact on children of the Russian Federation’s invasion, there is already evidence that it is committing four of the six grave violations against children in times of war in Ukraine, set forth by the Security Council. Pointing to the killing and maiming of children, targeting of schools and nurseries, credible allegations of sexual violence against children by Russian forces, and reports of forced deportations, she said reporting by OHCHR suggests that at least 238 children have been killed and 347 injured. “There is now the very real risk of a lost generation and the continuation of a cycle of violence, caused by Russia’s invasion and the devastation it has created,” she said. Urging collective action, she said all countries must endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration. The Russian Federation’s refusal to endorse that Declaration puts Ukraine’s children in further danger. The international community must ensure that all credible allegations of crimes on the territory of Ukraine are investigated. She expressed support for efforts to improve the collective understanding of the situation on the ground through evidence and data collection, noting that her country is proud to play a leading role in the humanitarian effort in Ukraine, delivering vital supplies and life-saving medical aid to those most in need, including children.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil), expressing concern over continued reports of child casualties due to the use of explosive weapons, mine-related incidents and explosive remnants of war, called on both parties to the conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas, including near schools or universities or along routes to or from them. Underscoring that schools and medical facilities should never be used for military purposes, he urged implementation of resolution 2601 (2021) on the protection of education, adding that the Safe Schools Declaration also provides important guidelines on that matter. Stressing that family reunification should be pursued with great urgency, he expressed alarm at the number of children who have become internally displaced persons and refugees, urging support from the international community, especially to those children who are unaccompanied or separated from their parents and family members. As children can become more vulnerable to crimes, including sexual violence and exploitation, their physical integrity and well-being should be a priority to all Member States. In that regard, his country has been granting humanitarian visas and residence permits for displaced Ukrainians and stateless persons affected or displaced by the armed conflict in Ukraine. Once in Brazil, they have full access to all public services and social benefits on an equal footing with Brazilian nationals. Brazilian civil society has been forthcoming and is mobilizing to provide further specialized assistance to help local integration, he said.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), stressing that two thirds of all children in Ukraine have fled their homes and now face the risks of trafficking and exploitation, said these violations must end and those responsible must be held accountable. Like killing, maiming and sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals are “listable” under the children and armed conflict agenda. If the Council is to protect children and seriously tackle impunity, it must support the integrity and the impartiality of listing on these grounds. The Council recently recognized children’s right to education during conflict with the unanimous adoption of resolution 2601 (2022). “Are our memories really that short?” she asked. “Our words must be followed by action.” The Council must address the disruption of education through the provision of education in emergency settings, psychosocial services, mental health support and health care. It should support United Nations monitors and child protection staff. She called on the Secretary-General and the Special Representative to consider adding Ukraine as a “situation of concern” in the annual report on children and armed conflict and to use all tools and mechanisms available to address any such violations taking place in Ukraine. The Council has repeatedly called for the Russian Federation to withdraw its forces and engage in true dialogue and diplomacy towards peace. However, while the conflict continues, it must comply with its obligations under international law. “We will not tire of making this call,” she said. “The children of Ukraine deserve no less from us.”
DAI BING (China) said protecting children is an obligation under international law that must be fulfilled. He called for securing children’s safety and the infrastructure on which they depend, and for prioritizing their needs during evacuations. He expressed hope that the Russian Federation and Ukraine will increase coordination on humanitarian issues and make every effort to reduce the humanitarian impact of the conflict. Citing the 7 May deadly attack on a school in Bilohorivka, he said such events are deplorable. “Schools should not be targeted or used for military purposes,” he stressed, noting that the circumstances and causes must be verified. Any accusations should be based on facts. He called on the international community to step up its relief efforts so every child in need receives assistance. He urged UNICEF, OHCHR, UNODC and others to strengthen their monitoring to help countries eliminate any violations against children, adding that warnings by the World Health Organization (WHO) of disruptions to children’s immunizations should be taken seriously. The international community should encourage parties to return to the negotiating track and create the political conditions to that end. In addition, he said sanctions will only accelerate the spillover of the crisis and spark food and other crises that will disproportionately impact children in Afghanistan, Yemen and the Horn of Africa. Parties must exercise restraint and make all efforts to resolve the crisis in Ukraine.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), lamenting the costs of conflict on children in her country’s region and beyond, expressed fear that the children of Ukraine are facing that same fate. Pointing to denied education, opportunity and a positive trajectory for the future, she called for a redoubling of efforts and commitment to ensure educational access. As the international community responds to the urgent humanitarian needs in Ukraine, education must be a priority, she said, stressing that future generations must have the necessary skills to effectively contribute to their communities. Voicing concern about reports of ongoing damage and destruction of civilian infrastructure, she said educational facilities must be protected and children’s continued access to education ensured. Commending neighbouring host countries, as well as UNICEF and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), for facilitating the continuation of education services for refugee children, she called on the international community to support those efforts. The protection of children, and all civilians, can only be assured with a cessation of hostilities throughout Ukraine and reaching a diplomatic solution to this conflict, she pointed out, calling on both sides of the conflict to remain committed to dialogue and on the international community and the Council to support efforts to end the war and establish peace.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that while several delegations spoke today about subjects other than children and education, he will adhere to the agenda item in his intervention. The subject of education is more than timely, because the regime in Kyiv has for years carried out a war against its population in Donbas, which included indoctrination and discrimination in education. Quoting Ukrainian officials who openly discriminated against children in Donbas as a war tactic, he said Western Council members “prefer not to notice this”. Between 2014 and 2022, there were more than 200 incidents of educational facilities being damaged in the Luhansk People’s Republic. Today, schools there are once again under attack from Ukrainian forces. More than 190,000 children have fled to the Russian Federation, which is working closely with officials in Luhansk and Donetsk to care for orphans and provide educational options, while also sending humanitarian assistance. Russian armed forces are making every effort to protect children in the course of their special military operation in Ukraine, he added, condemning all attacks against schools and other civilian facilities.
Rejecting allegations made today that the Russian Federation has carried out such attacks, he described those accusations as “absurd” and questioned the sources of such information. He also voiced concern over double standards in which humanitarian law “exists for everyone, but not Kyiv”, and recounted a range of violations by Ukrainian forces, including violations of the Safe Schools Declaration. Meanwhile, Ukrainian nationalists have been recruiting children into their ranks for years and have been teaching them to “hate everything that is Russian”. Turning to the quality of education in Ukraine, he said officials in that country are working to distort history, present the Russian Federation as an enemy and paint fascist collaborationists as heroes. He also questioned assertions made in the Ukrainian national curricula which claim that many great cultures throughout history — and even Jesus Christ — have their roots in Ukraine. Against that backdrop, he expressed hope that Ukrainian children will someday be able to continue their education “under normal curricula, and will no longer be fed this drivel”.
EDWIGE KOUMBY MISSAMBO (Gabon) said half of refugees or displaced persons are children. Whether displaced within Ukraine, or elsewhere, these changes are a source of distress. She described Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) figures on the numbers of children killed or wounded, particularly in the east of Ukraine, as “chilling” and called on belligerents to respect international humanitarian law. Humanitarian personnel must never be targeted. Unhindered humanitarian aid also must be deployed to all people in need, without discrimination. She lauded countries hosting refugees and providing schooling to refugee children, encouraging agencies to work with UNICEF to limit the trauma experienced by child victims of war. Moreover, it is crucial to limit the chances for mafia networks to benefit from the chaotic situation, and she called on parties to engage in discussions aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) said the conflict is severely impacting 7.5 million children across Ukraine. Citing reports that more than 900 education facilities and schools have either been damaged or destroyed, he called for international support for Ukraine’s efforts to protect schools and other learning spaces, students, and teachers. India facilitated the safe return of 22,500 Indian nationals, most of them students studying in Ukraine. It is exploring options for minimizing the impact on their education and welcomes the relaxations made by Ukraine for medical students during this academic year. India is sending medicine and relief supplies to Ukraine and its neighbours, and he voiced support for guarantees of safe passage for such deliveries, including through establishment of humanitarian corridors. Food and energy security are other serious concerns, which must be addressed through collective efforts. “No solution can be arrived at by shedding blood,” he stressed.
RICHARD M. MILLS (United States), noting reported attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, expressed particular concern about the situation in Kherson, where Russian forces have reportedly installed an illegitimate pro-Russian puppet administration. In recent days, those illegitimate proxies have indicated an intention to petition the Russian Federation to annex Kherson. The Russian Federation is clearly seeking to assimilate those regions into its orbit, posing grave consequences to the children of Kherson, he said. For example, schools would be forced to adopt the Russian curriculum, with the goal of erasing all signs of Ukrainian identity and culture. In addition, Ukrainians, many of them children, have reportedly been deported to the Russian Federation and processed through “so-called filtration camps”. Drawing attention to the violence, fear and anxiety to which children have been exposed, he warned about the serious and enduring negative consequences of trauma on children’s cognitive development for years to come.
He went on to stress that diplomacy and dialogue are essential to resolving the crisis. The Russian Federation should commit to silencing the guns, withdraw its forces, end its war and abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law. Moreover, all parties should urgently facilitate safe and unhindered access for medical and humanitarian workers and allow safe passage for those seeking to flee. He called on the Secretary-General and the Special Representative to add Ukraine as a situation of concern in the upcoming annual report on children in armed conflict, given the scale and nature of reported violations and abuses committed by the Russian Federation against children in eastern Ukraine between 2014 and 2021 and evidence of alarming increases in violations and abuses by that country across Ukraine since February. He said Member States must work collectively to ensure that children, regardless of where they live, can live without imminent fear of death, shelling and lifelong trauma.
SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine), recognizing the representative of President Vladimir Putin’s regime “in the permanent seat of the former Soviet Union”, said Russian occupiers are attempting to break Ukraine’s resistance day and night in Mariupol and elsewhere, with heavy bombardments. Even during the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal steel plant on 7 May, bombing continued, resulting in many wounded who lack access to medical supplies. Calling on the Council to continue to support the evacuation of civilians to safe locations, in line with international law, he stressed that “Russian captivity is not such a place”. He also voiced deep concern over the use of Russian “filtration camps” — a euphemism for concentration camps — emphasizing that it is unacceptable that civilians are being subjected to that practice. On 6 May, immediately after joining other Council members in condemning attacks against civilians, Moscow fired missiles on civilian targets in Kharkiv and elsewhere, demonstrating its cynicism and continuing its terror campaign.
Noting that at least 220 children have been killed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine — with the actual number likely much higher — he said additional Russian airstrikes took place on schools on 7 May and just last night. Some 130 education facilities have been destroyed and more than 1,500 damaged to date. Emphasizing that such acts are violations of international humanitarian law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he also pointed to the Russian kidnapping of Ukrainian children. More than a million children, including orphans, have been transferred to the Russian Federation, where their safety and living conditions remain unknown. Against that backdrop, he asked UNICEF to demand that Moscow grant immediate access to those children and to those living in all areas under temporary Russian control. He welcomed the launch of a Commission of Inquiry tasked with investigating war crimes committed by the Russian Federation — including arbitrary executions and the widespread use of sexual violence, torture and other violations. He also condemned Moscow’s cynical use of the victory over Nazis in the Second World War to justify its current aggression, declaring: “Today’s standards of Russian diplomacy have gone through the floor, and all masks are off.”
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), speaking on behalf of the Baltic countries, said in less than three months 14 million people, including two thirds of Ukraine’s children, have been forced to leave their homes. Ukraine’s Human Rights Commissioner asserts that more than 121,000 children have been forcibly deported to the Russian Federation. The forced deportations, along with the Russian Federation’s steps towards legislative changes to accelerate the adoption of children from Ukraine, in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, must be monitored by the United Nations and other relevant organizations. The Russian Federation’s actions amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as grave violations against children in conflict, including by killing and maiming, attacks against schools and hospitals, and sexual violence. The Russian Federation’s crimes are recorded, and it will be held accountable. He expressed support for the role of the International Criminal Court, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry, and the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in this work. He called for the full implementation of resolutions 1612 (2005) and 2601 (2021), which the Russian Federation, a permanent Council member, has endorsed and to which it must comply. He underlined the importance of the recording, monitoring and reporting on violations against children in Ukraine to the Council, including by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict.
JOANNA SYLWIA SKOCZEK (Poland) said more than 3.3 million people, mostly women and children, have crossed from Ukraine into her country seeking refuge. “Poland, both as a State and a society, makes every effort to meet their needs,” she said. Ensuring children continue their education is among its top priorities, as interruption to education has long-lasting effects and can prevent children from returning to learning. “We are determined to ensure each of those affected by war can continue their education,” she assured. Outlining various initiatives, she said that depending on parents’ preferences, Poland can enroll Ukrainian children in Polish schools or provide them equipment to participate in distance learning in the Ukrainian system. For children who want to pursue their education in the Polish system, her country organizes preparatory classes to help them overcome the language barrier. Noting that some 200,00 refugee children from Ukraine are in Polish schools, she said 20 per cent of them attend preparatory classes and 80 per cent attend regular classes with Polish children. In addition, an online platform offering free educational tools was created. Language courses are offered to teachers from Ukraine and for Polish teachers wanting to respond to the needs of Ukrainian refugee children.
She went on to note that children with special education needs — and their parents — can benefit from psychological and pedagogical assistance in Polish kindergartens and schools, while older students can pursue their studies at Polish universities, and academic researchers from Ukraine can benefit from financial support to continue their research. In times of war, classrooms should provide children with a sense of stability and act as a safe space to learn. However, across Ukraine, hundreds of schools have been destroyed by Russian shelling. She condemned in the strongest terms attacks against civilians and their infrastructure, stressing that all perpetrators of international law must be held accountable. Over 2,000 patients from Ukraine are hospitalized in Poland, nearly half of them children. Like all children, Ukrainian children were already dealing with mental health challenges from dealing with two years of the pandemic. Now, any move towards pre-pandemic normalcy has been cruelly interrupted. The Polish people are doing the best they can, offering children from Ukraine safety within their homes and families, and a normal life, with its duties and joys. “We hope we are able to save at least part of their dreams, and their childhood,” she said.
MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia), citing the most recent UNICEF report and the update of the OHCHR Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, said that as of 11 May, more than 230 children have been killed and more than 340 have been injured during the conflict. Instead of enjoying their childhood, millions of Ukraine’s children are witnessing the horrors of war. This is a “special achievement” of the Russian Federation’s “special military operation” — or in correct words, a child crisis of unprecedented proportions and one of the fastest large-scale displacements of children since the Second World War, caused by Moscow’s unjustified, unprovoked and senseless aggression against Ukraine, in blatant violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. Slovakia, as a neighbouring and directly affected country, is particularly alarmed by this crisis, he said, noting that since February, more than 136,00 children have entered Slovakia, and more than 30,000 have been granted temporary protection. Children fleeing Ukraine are provided with complex care, including psychological and social assistance, medical care and assistance in connecting or reuniting with their relatives and families. Together with UNICEF and UNHCR, Slovakia has agreed to develop a joint child protection, capacity-building plan. He reiterated the call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its hostilities and unconditionally withdraw all its troops from the whole territory of Ukraine.