Ambassador Holland condemns Russia’s disregard for Kharkiv’s civilian population as it bombards residential areas and other non-military targets in the region.

Neil Holland

Thank you, Madam Chair. Russia’s renewed offensive in Ukraine’s Kharkiv oblast has had a devastating impact on civilians. According to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, the escalation in hostilities in the north-eastern part of the country has resulted in terrifying conditions. In complete disregard for the civilian population, Russian forces have bombarded frontline positions, pulverised residential areas, and littered whole communities with unexploded ordnance and mines. The World Health Organisation estimates that 14,000 people in Kharkiv Oblast have been displaced, with the remaining 189,000 at significant risk.  

According to the Kharkiv regional police, Russian forces have prevented some civilians from evacuating the besieged town of Vovchansk. They report that at least one civilian was killed in an extrajudicial execution for trying to escape. Additionally, on 21 May, drone images have surfaced showing what appears to be several extrajudicial executions of civilians in Vovchansk. Madam Chair, these reports are an incredibly concerning snapshot of the situation civilians in this region face every day. As we know, wilful killing is a war crime, and those responsible must be held to account.

Last weekend, Russia struck a home improvement store in Kharkiv, killing 18 people, including two children, and injuring several others. Search operations continue as the police attempt to identify remains amongst the ashes. An image of an eight-year-old boy taking a DNA test to identify his deceased father highlights the devastation Russia has inflicted upon innocent civilians. This store was not a military target. It was a civilian shop attacked during its busiest period of the week. 

It is clear that Russian strikes extend beyond military targets. Last week, on the day that our Permanent Council last met, Russia struck a printing house in Kharkiv, killing civilians who were working in the building. The printing house, which has been turned to rubble, produced a third of Ukraine’s books and 10% of its newspapers. It was not making tanks or ammunition. It represented something that Russia fears far more: a free media; facts and ideas that do not conform with the Kremlin’s warped view of reality; Ukrainian identity, culture and language.          

But the people of Ukraine refuse to submit to Russian aggression. Ukrainian forces are stabilising the situation and disrupting the tempo of Russia’s operations in the region. Despite Russia’s aggressive tactics, 60% of Vovchansk remains under Ukrainian control, and Russian forces are facing significant casualties. Like many in this room, the UK will continue to stand resolutely by Ukraine’s side, unwavering in our commitment to counter Russian aggression and to stand up for freedom.

Madam Chair, the UK welcome Switzerland’s “Summit on Peace for Ukraine” scheduled for 15-16 June. The summit will build international consensus around the principles that must underpin a just and lasting peace. The UK will attend at a high-level and we encourage others to do the same. Thank you.

Published 30 May 2024