Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba at the UN General Assembly meeting on the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine

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18 July 2023

Mr. President,

Distinguished representatives,

Today, we debate item 59 “The situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”. But I believe that no figures or statements can make one feel and comprehend what is really going on in Ukraine’s occupied territories.

This is why I want to give voice to Ukrainian children who went through occupation and suffering. What I am going to read now are excerpts from the real wartime diaries of three Ukrainian children.

Eight-year-old Yehor Kravtsov. March 3rd, 2022. He was writing his diary inside the blockaded Mariupol: “I slept well, woke up, smiled, and counted till 25. Also, my grandpa died. I have a wound on my back; skin is torn out; my sister has a head wound, flesh is torn out of my mother’s arm; and she also has a hole in her leg”.

Next day: “My birthday is coming soon. During this time since February 24th, two of my dogs died, my grandma Halya and my beloved city of Mariupol”.

Another Ukrainian girl, Violetta Horbachova, was 13 when the full-scale invasion began. She has spent around four months in occupied Nova Kakhovka.

February 2022: “We don’t go outside at all. I am scared that if I step out of the block, they will shoot me down. The streets are almost empty. Dad goes to work and brings goods. The village across from the Hydroelectric plant is being shelled. I am texting my friend there, but he doesn’t respond. It’s scary to think how many people I know may soon die.”

May 2022: “Mom tells us not to go for a walk to places where there are no people. Because many girls get raped. On May 27th, all mobile networks were fully shut down. People stood near a closed cafe like zombies, in small groups, because the local wifi still worked there”.

The third girl, Arina Pervunina, was eleven when Russia launched its full-scale invasion. She was hiding in a basement in an occupied village. She was afraid that Russian soldiers might rape her and called her father, who was in the government-controlled area, crying and asking to take her away. He somehow managed to drive there, but on their way back, Russian soldiers opened fire on the car and killed her father in front of her.

One week later, she wrote in her diary: “I don’t want to live. What is this life without a father? And I am such a helpless child who can’t do anything on her own. But this is probably a punishment for me. Maybe because I failed to keep silent, I called my father that day instead of just carrying on. Had I not called, everything would be fine; everyone would be alive. I hate myself. Why am I so helpless?”

She still addresses her father in the diary now. Almost every entry begins with the word “Daddy”. May 26th, 2023: “Daddy, I just finished my seventh grade and I have really good marks. I love you so much. I will do everything to make you proud of me. Love you, Daddy”.

These lines are impossible to read without tears. And these are the only lines that I managed to bring here. But there are thousands of children like this, who go through the same suffering.

Arina gave me this diary (show the red diary here) It sparkles. She should have been writing about her thoughts about her life, about boyfriends, about new music, but it is full of pain and suffering instead.

She allowed me to read out these intimate entries and I’m grateful to her for her bravery. Now you know how Ukrainian children feel  and what Ukrainians have been going through for almost one and a half years.

Why have these and millions of other Ukrainian kids been robbed of their childhoods? Because Putin has an imperial tumor in his head? Because Russia doesn’t mind the suffering of children to achieve its sick political goals?

I am sure many of you in this room have kids. You would never want them to live through hell like this. No kid in the world neither in Ukraine, nor in any other country in the world deserves it. No political reason can justify the tears of a child.

Distinguished delegates,

The Russian invasion deprived all of Ukraine’s 7.5 million children of their normal lives. Almost two-thirds of them have been internally or externally displaced. Russia has killed at least 494 Ukrainian children and injured 1052 more. At least 379 have gone missing during hostilities.

Right as we speak, Russia continues the mass abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children. A disgusting, heinous, and genocidal crime for which Putin and his children’s rights commissioner are already wanted by the ICC.

To date, we have identified 19,474 illegally transferred kids, including 4,390 who are orphans or lack parental care. So far, only 383 have been returned and reunited with their families, with dozens of thousands still desperately waiting for our help.

We welcome the decision by the UN Secretary-General to include the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups in the annex of his Report on Children and Armed Conflict for the serious crimes they have committed against children in Ukraine.

We should jointly demand that Russia immediately provide the list of children it took from Ukraine and grant access to them for international human rights and monitoring missions. Russia must free Ukrainian children and return them to their families.

I urge all UN member states to exert maximum pressure on Russia in their national capacities. I do it on behalf of all the parents of Ukraine, who want to reunite with their children. We can force Russia to end its violations against children and safely return them if we demand it together, with one strong voice.

Another horror is Russia’s abduction of civilians in the occupied territories. According to Ukraine’s National Police, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, 8,800 civilians have become victims of enforced disappearances and remain illegally detained, with more than 10,200 people considered missing.

Detention of civilians may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute. But given the scale of this mass unlawful practice by Russian occupiers, we are not just talking about isolated cases. We are talking about Russia taking civilian hostages as a tool of its genocidal war. No other conflict in modern times has seen such crime on such a scale.

The international community lacks tools to address the problem. For instance, unlike prisoners of war, civilian hostages cannot be returned in exchanges because this would only prompt Russia to abduct many more. We urgently need new international instruments for punishing the abduction of civilians and ensuring the safe return of civilian hostages. I propose that we begin to develop such instruments.

Dear colleagues,

The stories of Ukrainian children that I read today show that Russia’s war has brought immense suffering. However, Russian aggression against Ukraine is not the only war going on in the world. Unfortunately, similar stories are familiar to children in Africa, the Middle East, and every other part of the world where war and lawlessness have come. Today, the voice of Ukrainian children is also the voice of children worldwide who are victims of armed conflicts. We must save them all. We must restore peace for them.

In Ukraine, Russian aggression must end. We need a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace based on the Peace Formula proposed by President Zelenskyy and respective UN General Assembly resolutions.

While Ukraine fights for its survival, exercising self-defense under Article 51 of the Charter, we keep hearing some absurd calls for abstract peace. What most of them really mean is not peace but something else.

I will translate some of them from diplomatic to common sense language.

For instance, some say, “Why don’t you just sit at the negotiating table and end this war now?” What they really say is: “Let Russia keep the land it has stolen and just keep killing, torturing, raping and intimidating people in the occupied territories”.

Others cynically state that it is Ukraine that “drags out” the war. What they really say is: “Ukraine must give up and let Russia complete its genocide as soon as possible”.

We also hear voices saying, “Stop sending weapons to Ukraine, it doesn’t help peace”. Sounds great. But what these people really mean is, “Leave Ukraine defenseless, and Russia will win faster. It’s going to be bloody and terrible, but the whole thing will be over sooner. We will then mourn the Ukrainian victims at commemorative events each year and condemn Russian brutality while doing business as usual with them”.

After resisting Russian full-scale war for over one and a half years, our 40-million nation has one thing to reply to all of these suggestions: NO. No to genocide under the guise of peace. No to fake pacifism that excuses the aggressor for its crimes. No to territorial concessions for the sake of the illusion of peace. No. We will fight and prevail. Because we want to live. Because our children, like yours, deserve to have full families and life free of fear and suffering. We will ensure the accountability of the aggressor because this is the only way to restore real justice, to introduce just and lasting peace for Ukraine and respect for the UN Charter.

Last week, G7 member states agreed on security guarantees for Ukraine. Since then, ten more countries have joined them. I call on each UN member state to consider joining last week’s G7 declaration, which is open for signing. Make your own practical contribution to the security of Ukraine. By helping Ukrainian children have a safe future, you also ensure a safe future for your own children. When Ukraine comes out of this war safer, the probability of any aggression against your countries and children will be significantly lower.

Distinguished delegates,

Right as we speak, our soldiers are shrinking the temporarily occupied territory. Step by step, kilometer by kilometer. The area of war is becoming smaller, and the area of peace is expanding by the day.

Every step forward made by a Ukrainian soldier is a step toward peace. Each liberated kilometer is a kilometer of safety where Ukrainian children will be able to live their lives without fear of being raped, stolen or killed. Every liberated kilometer also means additional Ukrainian grain to feed the world and ease the global food crisis. The cost we are paying for these kilometers is the lives of our people. When foreign customers get Ukrainian grain, I want them to understand that each kilogram of it was paid for with the ultimate price, the lives of our soldiers. Russia kills not only our soldiers. Yesterday, it killed the vital Grain Deal, the one that helped save millions of people from the threat of hunger. And just as we are fighting to protect life in Ukraine, we will be fighting to restore the food lifeline for the world.

With 603,700 square kilometers free of invaders, peace will be fully restored. This is the size of Ukraine.

I urge all states to be realistic about this. Some wars are not simply conflicts between two parties. Some wars are wars of aggression, with one country attacking and trying to destroy the other. Some wars are genocidal. They cannot be ended by simply sitting down and allowing the aggressor to take what it believes is his. They need to be won, unfortunately, on the battlefield and at a high cost, so that the aggressor drops plans to conquer and kill.

I thank all those of you who have taken a strong position on the side of truth and rely on your further resoluteness in defense of the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. I call on all others not to pretend to be neutral. There is no place for neutrality in a situation of genocidal war and mass atrocity crimes.

My wish, and the wish of millions of Ukrainians, as well as the wish of Ukrainian children who allowed me to read out their diaries to you, is for this war to end sooner with Ukrainian victory and the restoration of a just and lasting peace.

When this happens, there will no longer be item 59 “The situation in the temporarily occupied territories”. Because there will be no occupied territories in Ukraine. And no other Ukrainian child will have to suffer. Let’s be true to ourselves about how this can be achieved and unite all of our forces to bring this day closer.

I thank you.

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