Ambassador Neil Holland says that Russia is attacking Ukrainian civilians, monuments, religious sites, museums, and art galleries.

Neil Holland

Thank you, Mr Chair.

A tribute is taking place at the British Library in London this evening honouring the life and work of the award-winning Ukrainian writer, Victoria Amelina. Victoria, who was only 37 years of age, was killed in July following a Russian missile strike on a restaurant in Kramatorsk.  Alongside Victoria, 12 other civilians died, including four children. Before the war Victoria wrote novels and children’s books. Following Russia’s illegal full-scale invasion, she began to investigate alleged war crimes, documenting testimonies, and working with children near the frontline. Not long before her death, Victoria uncovered the buried war diary of another Ukrainian writer, Volodymyr Vakulenko, who was shot by Russian forces last year. Victoria died from injuries sustained in a Russian attack on a civilian location. The victims of this attack were Ukrainian civilians and artists, determined to remain part of a free, independent, and sovereign Ukraine. All killed by Russia.

According to UNESCO 124 religious sites, 142 buildings of historical or artistic interest, 28 museums, 19 monuments, 13 libraries and one archive have been destroyed since Russia’s full-scale invasion. Last year, Russian air strikes struck Mariupol Theatre, killing hundreds of sheltering civilians. Russian air strikes also hit Babyn Yar memorial park, a site commemorating thousands of Jews murdered by the Nazis in 1941. And just this week, four months after Russian strikes severely damaged Odesa’s historic Transfiguration Cathedral, the 124-year-old Odesa National Fine Arts Museum was also hit.

But of course, Russia’s campaign against Ukrainian identity and culture does not stop with Russian attacks on monuments, religious sites and museums and art galleries. We have heard in this very room the disturbing findings of the Moscow Mechanism Report on the forcible transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children to temporarily Russian-controlled territory and the Russian Federation. The report details so-called ‘recreations camps’ seeking to indoctrinate children about Russia’s version of Ukrainian history, the easing of requirements for unaccompanied Ukrainian children to change citizenship, and the placement of children in completely pro-Russian environments, prevented from speaking Ukrainian. These children have no link back to their Ukrainian culture, and in many cases, no current prospect of being returned to Ukraine. The intention here is clear, Russia’s aim is to deny these children their Ukrainian identity.

Russia’s actions are felt most acutely in the temporarily controlled territories of Ukraine. Russia continues to interfere with Ukraine’s sovereign integrity by holding sham ‘elections’, which go well beyond what is permissible under international law and extends to restrictions on the use of the Ukrainian language and the forced imposition of Russian laws.

The UK and international partners will support Ukraine until all Russian forces withdraw from the internationally recognised borders of Ukraine and return all Ukrainian children to their legal guardians. The UK will also continue to support the reconstruction of Ukraine, supporting a Ukraine-led effort to emerge from the war resilient to Russian threats. Ukraine, Ukrainians and Ukrainian language and culture will once again have all the conditions they need to flourish. Thank you, Mr Chair.

Published 9 November 2023