The U.N. General Assembly began a lengthy debate Wednesday over two draft resolutions that seek to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, where millions wait for food, water and medical supplies or the chance to escape their besieged city safely.
“Thousands of Ukrainians have lost their lives over this month: young and old, women and men, civilians and military,” Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said of Russia’s war, which began in the early hours of February 24. “They died because Russia decided to attack — attack Ukraine, attack peace, attack all of us. Every day of the Russian war against Ukraine aggravates the humanitarian situation further and further.”
The numbers are staggering. In barely one month, the United Nations says 3.5 million people have fled to neighboring countries and 6.5 million are displaced within Ukraine. The U.N. estimates 12 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. The situation deteriorates daily.
U.N. member states have before them two resolutions. Both call for an immediate cease-fire, protection of civilians, critical civilian infrastructure, aid workers and medical personnel.
But there is one glaring difference: one text names Russia as the aggressor and calls on it to cease its actions against Ukraine, whereas the second text names no aggressor and essentially puts Ukraine — which was attacked — on the same level with its attacker.
Mexico and France, along with Ukraine, were among the 25 countries that drafted the text that names Russia, and their resolution has more than 80 co-sponsors in the General Assembly. South Africa is the author of the second text. It was not immediately clear whether their draft had any co-sponsors.
There are more than 70 diplomats slated to take part in Wednesday’s debate. A vote could potentially roll into Thursday.
Any result would not have a legally binding effect on Russia, but with strong international backing, it would express the will of the world that the hostilities should stop, and people should be helped.
The overwhelming number of speakers expressed support for the western draft, underscoring Russia’s destruction of Ukraine, including its siege on the southern port city of Mariupol, and the indiscriminate shelling and bombing of civilians and critical infrastructure.
“In light of the tragedy that is unfolding, the General Assembly has to take its responsibility to address this humanitarian catastrophe and urgently call on Russia to respect the basic principles of international humanitarian law that applies to everyone,” European Union Ambassador Olof Skoog said on behalf of the 27-member bloc.
Turkey, which has put itself forward as a potential mediator between Russia and Ukraine, said the war should never have started and should stop immediately.
“Let’s be clear: the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is not the result of a natural disaster,” Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioğlu told the assembly. “It is manmade. It is the result of the blatant violation of international humanitarian law by the Russian Federation. This is unacceptable.”
Only Syria took the floor to support Russia. Moscow has provided military backing to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since 2015 in its brutal war against its population. Even Belarus, which hosts Russian troops on its territory and is believed to be considering involving its own military in Ukraine to support Russia, did not take to the floor of the General Assembly. Also absent from the debate were Eritrea and North Korea, which round out the countries that have publicly supported Moscow at the United Nations.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the western text as having “blatantly anti-Russian elements.”
“Let me be clear: this scenario will make a resolution to the situation in Ukraine more difficult,” Nebenzia said. “Because more likely, it will embolden Ukrainian negotiators and would nudge them to maintaining the current unrealistic position, which is not related to the situation on the ground nor to the need to tackle the root causes, which meant that Russia had to start, almost a month ago, its special military operation in Ukraine.”
He said that if countries wanted to help the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, they could vote for Moscow’s draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council.
That text is likely to fail to garner the nine necessary votes and no vetoes when it is put to a vote in the council later Wednesday.
Meanwhile, humanitarians continue without strong guarantees for their safety, to try to reach millions of Ukrainians with life-saving aid, many of them stranded in areas with active hostilities.