Mounting reports of crimes against women, children in Ukraine raising 'red flags' over potential protection crisis, executive director tells Security Council.
Increasing reports of sexual violence and human trafficking in Ukraine — allegedly committed against women and children in the context of massive displacement and ongoing fighting — are raising "all the red flags" about a potential protection crisis, the Executive Director of the United Nations gender agency warned the Security Council today. Sima Bahous, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said she recently returned from the Republic of Moldova where she witnessed buses full of exhausted and anxious women and children arriving from Ukraine.  There, they were met with dignity and compassion by volunteers from civil society organizations, many of which are being supported by UN-Women — as part of its coordination mandate — "to ensure that the gendered nature of this crisis is addressed with a gender-sensitive response". Condemning in the strongest terms an 8 April attack on a train station in Kramatorsk, which killed dozens of women and children waiting for evacuation from Ukraine, she also warned that "this trauma risks destroying a generation".  Allegations of rape and sexual violence perpetrated on those fleeing are now emerging, and the large numbers of displaced persons — with the presence of conscripts and mercenaries, and the brutality displayed against Ukrainians in the current conflict — raises red flags. Calling on all countries to support the Republic of Moldova and other neighbouring countries with resources and support, she said through all those horrors, women continue to lead and serve their communities.  They make up 80 per cent of all health and social care workers in Ukraine, and many have chosen not to flee.  Women parliamentarians, as well as Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister, continue their work as bombs fall all around them.  Saluting their courage, she emphasized that women must be involved in all efforts to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis, stressing:  "We know from experience that women's participation makes response and recovery more effective and sustainable." Manuel Fontaine, Director of Emergencies at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said its teams were offloading life-saving humanitarian supplies just a kilometre away from the Kramatorsk attack.  Children, families and communities remain under attack, many do not have enough food, and attacks on water systems have left some 1.4 million without access to safe water.  As of 10 April, the United Nations has verified 142 children killed and 229 children injured, but "we know these numbers are likely much higher".  Meanwhile, hundreds of schools and educational facilities have also been attacked or used for military purposes. He stressed that nearly two thirds of all Ukrainian children have been displaced since the conflict began, and echoed reports of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence.  Against that backdrop, UNICEF and its partners are doing everything possible, both inside and outside Ukraine.  However, ongoing fighting is preventing access to many areas of the country.  He recounted recent visits to reception centres for internally displaced persons — run mostly by women professionals — that offer access to health and psychosocial services, warm meals and temporary rest.  UNICEF is also carefully monitoring the health, rights and dignity of women and girls as the risk of exploitation and abuse grows, he said. Offering a civil society perspective was Kateryna Cherepakha, President of the organization La Strada-Ukraine, who said local human rights groups are currently consolidating efforts to save civilian lives and collect survivor testimonies about the war crimes committed by the Russian Federation.  Despite clear indications of their status as civilians — and even as they seek evacuation — unarmed Ukrainian women carrying children have been brutally killed by Russian troops, she said, pointing to attacks on the railway station in Kramatorsk, as well as a maternity hospitals, kindergartens and shelters in Mariupol.  Highlighting the increased vulnerability of women in local administrations to the threat of kidnapping, torture and killing, she said female prisoners of war have been exposed to torture and sexual violence. However, she warned against viewing Ukrainian women as mere victims of the Russian military aggression.  Ukrainian women volunteers, activists, journalists and human rights defenders are an integral part of her country and its resistance.  Calling on all members of the Security Council, international institutions and Governments to demonstrate solidarity, she stressed the need for practical actions to stop the Russian Federation's aggression. As Council members took the floor, the representative of the United States said that when men like Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin start wars, women and children get hurt, displaced, raped and killed.  Highlighting the 8 April missile attack on a train station being used for civilian evacuations, she said that a large piece of the missile had a message in Russian on its side saying, "For the children."  Anyone at risk before war — including women and children, religious and ethnic minorities, people living with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex persons — is now at heightened risk.  In that context, she called for strengthened protection efforts, pathways to healing and access to justice for survivors, agreeing that women are far from passive victims in this war. The representative of Ireland also sounded alarm over "bone-chilling" allegations that children are among those being abused in Ukraine.  "Conflict-related sexual violence can constitute a war crime and those responsible must be held to account," he stressed, adding that accountability must also extend to military commanders who fail to take all "necessary and reasonable" steps to stop such abuses or fail to ensure they are investigated and prosecuted.  Warning of an emerging child-protection crisis, he said the international community has a responsibility to respond. Poland's representative said nearly 2.6 million refugees from Ukraine have already arrived in his country, the vast majority women and children who cross the border with no contacts and find themselves at risk of trafficking and abuse.  They are physically and psychologically weakened, unfamiliar with their new surroundings and highly vulnerable to criminals.  To protect them, Polish authorities have put measures in place at all border crossing areas and reception centres to control who has direct access to refugees, including through strict identification and registration protocols. The representative of Ukraine said that, over the past week, many foreign leaders, journalists and United Nations officials have visited crime scenes in Ukraine and were shocked by what they saw.  The Russian Federation has launched a policy of extermination against his people, he said, also noting that Ms. Cherepakha's snapshot of the repressions being committed against Ukrainian women are just a few instances of many.  Against that backdrop, the national prosecutor's office is launching a special mechanism to document sexual violence committed by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian women, and is closely cooperating with non-governmental groups and United Nations officials working in a similar capacity on the ground. The Russian Federation's representative, rejecting the ongoing distortion of his country's special military operation in Ukraine and promotion of "fakes" by the West, described the attack in Kramatorsk as a classic false flag operation committed by Ukrainian forces.  Photographs taken by witnesses made it possible to determine the type of rocket and the direction from which it was launched, both of which point to Ukraine as the perpetrator.  Meanwhile, in the city of Irpin, a provocation borrowing the script from Bucha and Nemmersdorf is being prepared, with Ukrainian forces transferring bodies from a morgue into a building basement to stage a shooting event. Also speaking were the representatives of Albania, France, Ghana, Mexico, India, Norway, Brazil, China, United Arab Emirates, Gabon, Kenya, United Kingdom, Romania and Germany. The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:59 p.m.