Ukraine’s president has called on the United Nations to do more to respond to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east, where government forces continue to face off against Kremlin-backed separatists in a seven-year-war that has killed more than 13,200 people.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy also used his September 22 speech before the UN General Assembly to highlight what appeared to be a brazen assassination attempt in Kyiv that targeted a key aide earlier the same day.
In his speech, Zelenskiy suggested that the United Nations needed to “wake up” and tackle the world’s most pressing problems.
“Today the UN is like a retired superhero who has forgotten what he could do. He considers himself a burden, a weak, frail, useless old man whose life was in vain,” he said.
He also took aim at Russia, both for fueling the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine and also for its occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, just before the war broke out.
Moscow has stepped up efforts to give Russian passports to Ukrainians living in separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, and even allowed passport holders to vote in the recent Russian parliamentary elections.
“Isn’t it evidence of an international crime? Isn’t it proof of impunity and disrespect for international law? Moreover, the Russian Federation itself officially declares it. And it forces our citizens of Ukraine to take part in the elections to the Russian parliament,” he said.
“And if the UN does not react efficiently and strongly to this,” he asked. “Is that proof that it is too late to revive the UN?”
The Zelenskiy aide who was targeted in the September 22 shooting south of Kyiv, Serhiy Shefir, is a top adviser and has played a key role in the administration’s attempts to curb the power and influence of the country’s “oligarchs” — the powerful, wealthy businessmen who for years have played an outside role in domestic politics.
Zelenskiy was elected in 2019 on a platform to rein in the oligarchs, and tackle the country’s rampant corruption. But he’s been criticized, both at home and abroad, for not doing more.
Shefir was not injured, but his driver was hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
“Here is the price of change in the state, here is the price of reforms,” Zelenskiy said, referring to the shooting.
Less than a day after Zelenskiy’s speech, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report showing a surge in violence in eastern Ukraine, where the separatists are battling government forces.
The report said the number of cease-fire violations in the conflict zone “considerably increased” from February 1 to July 31, compared with the previous six months.
Moreover, it noted a 51 percent increase in the number of civilian casualties, including the deaths of 13 people by “active hostilities,” while dozens of injuries resulted from mine-related incidents and the handling of explosive remnants of war.
One man was also killed in a security incident, while one woman was beaten to death by a soldier.
The OHCHR said that “conflict and resulting economic hardship negatively affected the civilian population living near the contact line, including due to a lack of public transport and passable roads, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, difficulties in receiving medical aid…and inability to visit/receive family members due to COVID-19 restrictions and checkpoints.”