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UN Human Rights Chief: ‘Tragedy of Mariupol Is Far From Over’ 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet addresses the press on the opening day of the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva on June 13, 2022.

A top U.N. official said information about what transpired in Mariupol strongly suggests Russian armed forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in that besieged Ukrainian city.

U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet presented an oral update on the grave situation in Mariupol Thursday to the U.N. Human Rights Council. U.N. monitors who were unable to access Mariupol due to the security situation gathered information from people who had left the city and from satellite imagery.

The high commissioner for human rights presented a sobering picture of what occurred between February and the end of April in Mariupol, which she described as the deadliest place in Ukraine.

In chronological order, she described Russia’s unrelenting air strikes, rocket attacks, tank and artillery shelling that turned this once thriving city of half a million people into rubble and ashes. She presented statistics on the extensive destruction of residential homes, public buildings, hospitals, and other structures harboring civilians, many of whom were killed.

After three months, Russia took control of Mariupol. Bachelet says conditions in the city are dire. She says residents have limited access to medical care and other basic services and that people cannot leave and return freely.

“The tragedy of Mariupol is far from over, and the full picture of the devastation caused is not yet clear," Bachelet said. "The city can eventually be rebuilt, but, the horrors inflicted on the civilian population will leave their indelible mark, including on generations to come. On the parents who had to bury their own children … on all those who had to leave a much-loved city with uncertain prospects of ever seeing it again.”

FILE - Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov listens to a U.N. resolution endorsing a cease-fire in Syria, Feb. 26, 2016.
FILE - Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov listens to a U.N. resolution endorsing a cease-fire in Syria, Feb. 26, 2016.

Russia’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, contested the high commissioner’s assessment of the situation in Mariupol. He said Russian forces had fully liberated Mariupol from what he called Ukrainian Nazi formations.

For eight years, he said Mariupol had been held hostage by Ukrainian neo-Nazis. Now, he added, peace was returning and calm resuming.

Tetiana Lomakina, an official in the Office of the President of Ukraine, accused Russia of mounting an unlawful and unjustified war against her country. She said Russia should not escape with impunity for the crimes it has committed. She urged the international community to ensure accountability.

Lomakina said Mariupol would forever remain an integral part of Ukraine. She vowed her government would not rest until its people were freed again.