The U.N. Human Rights Council has overwhelmingly approved a request to hold an urgent debate later this week on the crisis in Ukraine stemming from the Russian invasion of that country.
The proposal was approved by 29 countries in the 47-member council. Thirteen countries abstained and five - China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela, voted against the proposal.
The vote took place after an impassioned plea by Yevheniia Filipenko, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva. She called on the Council to hold Russia accountable for what she called an unprovoked, unjustified attack on her country.
In just four days, she said the toll of destruction in Ukraine has become devastating. She said 352 people, including 16 children, have been killed, and some 1,700 people have been wounded, including 160 children. She said Russian bombing of civilian infrastructure, roads and bridges has left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity and water and cut off communities.
“Russian forces attempt to sow panic among the population by specifically targeting kindergartens and orphanages, hospitals, and mobile medical aid brigades, thus committing acts that may amount to war crimes. And Ukraine has filed the case against Russia in the International Court of Justice to bring Russia to account,” said Filipenko.
The Russian ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, accused Ukraine of committing multiple atrocities against people living in Ukraine’s southeastern Donetsk and Lukansk regions. He speaks through an interpreter.
Gatilov said, ”Before us we have nothing other than the usual attempt of Kyiv to distract attention, the attention of the international community away from what they have been doing for nearly eight years now, which is the targeted destruction of completely innocent people in Donetsk and Lukansk—women, children and the elderly.”
Since 2014, more than 14,000 people in Donetsk and Luhansk have been killed in fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the two rebel republics a week ago.
Western governments condemned this action. They said Putin’s decision to send so-called peacekeepers to safeguard the sovereignty and independence of this separatist region was a pretext to invade Ukraine.
The Human Rights Council opened a five-week session Monday. It has decided to hold the urgent debate on the “situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression” on Thursday.
This follows a three-day high-level segment with the participation of heads of state and other dignitaries from more than 140 countries.