The United Nations said Monday that Ukrainian women and children are at heightened risk of sexual violence, rape and trafficking as reports grow of such violations.
"These allegations must be independently investigated to ensure justice and accountability," U.N. Women Executive Director Sima Bahous told the Security Council. "The combination of mass displacement with the large presence of conscripts and mercenaries, and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians, has raised all red flags."
Bahous, who just returned from a mission to Moldova, said the risk of human trafficking is also increasing as people become more desperate to flee the war in Ukraine.
"Young women, and unaccompanied teenagers, are at a particular risk," she said. "I call on all countries to increase their efforts in combating trafficking and commend all the host countries for their collaboration on prevention."
She urged donors to support countries, including Moldova, which has received more than 400,000 refugees, so they can monitor border crossings and support victims.
The council was briefed virtually by Kateryna Cherepakha, president of the Ukrainian civil society organization La Strada-Ukraine. She said Russian soldiers are using violence and rape as weapons of war.
She said her organization has credible testimony from about a dozen women and girls who were raped in areas that had been under Russian occupation.
"Raped by a group of occupants, multiple times, with life threats to survivors, their children, their family members, in front of the family members and other people," she said.
She said the survivors were extremely traumatized, feared for their lives and had difficulty in speaking about the sexual attacks.
"They need support, therapy, recovery, first," Cherepakha said.
Children in turmoil
More than 4.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24. Nearly 90% of them are women and children. Another 7.1 million people are internally displaced.
The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, says more than 7 million school-age youth are missing out on school – 5.7 million school-age children and 1.5 million students in higher education.
Most disturbingly, the U.N. has verified the killing of 142 children. An additional 229 have been wounded.
"We know these numbers are likely much higher – and many of them were caused by crossfire or the use of explosive weapons in populated areas," UNICEF Emergency Programs Director Manuel Fontaine told the council.
Fontaine returned Friday from a 10-day mission to Ukraine. He said in three decades as a humanitarian, he has rarely seen so much damage caused in so little time.
Of the 3.2 million children estimated to have remained in their homes, he said nearly half may be at risk of not having enough food. Attacks on infrastructure have left an estimated 1.4 million people without access to water, and 4.6 million people have only limited access.
"The situation is even worse in cities like Mariupol and Kherson, where children and their families have now gone weeks without running water and sanitation services, a regular supply of food and medical care," Fontaine said. "They are sheltering in their homes and underground, waiting for the bombs and violence to stop."
Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador told the council that his government "does not wage war against the civilian population." He again said accusations against Russia were part of the "intense" information war directed against Moscow.
"We see a clear intention to present Russian soldiers as sadists and rapists," Dmitry Polyansky told the council regarding reports of sexual violence.
"Continuing to claim that there is no war of aggression in Ukraine is equal to continuing to claim that the world is flat," Albanian Ambassador Ferit Hoxha said in response to Russia. "We know that there are people who believe it, but that does not make it true."
Many council members also noted the rocket attack Friday on the Kramatorsk train station, where 4,000 civilians were trying to evacuate. More than 50 people were killed, including at least five children. More than 100 others were wounded, many severely.
"According to the reporters, a large piece of missile on the scene had chilling words written on the side. In Russian it said, 'for the children.' That is what Russia's war looks like," U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said of what Western reporters saw at the station.
Russia's envoy said, without offering any evidence, that the attack was a false flag operation staged by "Ukrainian Nazis."
"What is happening to women and children in Ukraine is horrific beyond comprehension," Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said. "If we can't stop the Kremlin, more and more children will become orphans. More and more mothers will lose their children."
He accused Russia of taking 121,000 children out of Ukraine.
"Moreover, Russia is reported to have drafted a bill to simplify and accelerate the procedure for the adoption of abducted Ukrainian children, both orphans and those who have parents and other relatives," Kyslytsya said. "Most of these children they abducted from Mariupol to Donetsk and the Russian city of Taganrog."
Asked about it after the meeting, UNICEF representative Fontaine said the agency has heard the reports of the abductions and has no evidence of them but is willing to look into the issue.
Several council members said there must be accountability for crimes against women and children, but above all an immediate end to the fighting is needed.