With the devastating toll of war on Ukraine’s children becoming clearer each day, humanitarian efforts — punctuated by several “monumental” recent evacuations of trapped civilians — must continue to scale up, officials told the Security Council today, as the representatives of Kyiv and Moscow traded accusations of attacks on schools and educational indoctrination.
“The war in Ukraine, like all wars, is a child protection and child rights crisis,” said Omar Abdi, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who was one of two officials briefing the 15-member Council. In the last month, he said, the United Nations has verified nearly 100 child deaths from the fighting, with an actual figure that is likely to be considerably higher. Many more have been injured, displaced and face grave violations of their rights. Meanwhile, schools across Ukraine have been hit by heavy artillery, air strikes and other explosive weapons, or used for military purposes.
Spotlighting the severe impact on education, he said schools are a lifeline for children in conflict, providing protection from harm and a semblance of normalcy. Creative, multifaceted and flexible solutions combining low- and high-tech methods are urgently needed to reach all children and minimize disruptions to their learning. However, remote learning can only be a temporary solution, he noted, emphasizing that the warring parties must honour their legal and moral obligations to protect civilians and ensure the rights of children — including the right to attend school — are upheld. In that vein, he recalled the Council’s adoption of resolution 2601 (2021), which condemned attacks on schools and stressed the critical right to education in conflict settings.
Echoing those points was Joyce Msuya, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who updated the Council on efforts to negotiate more humanitarian pauses for the safe passage of civilians trapped by the fighting in Ukraine. On 9 May, she said, the United Nations, together with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), were able to evacuate another 174 civilians from the Azovstal steel plant and other parts of Mariupol, “a truly monumental feat amid the shelling and destruction ongoing in the east”. Describing the operation as a glimmer of hope, she nevertheless said the war continues to rage, with civilians paying the heaviest price.
Noting that the use of landmines and wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas is having a devastating effect, she added that nearly 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes, of whom 8 million are internally displaced. The United Nations and its partners have provided humanitarian assistance to over 5.4 million people, while five inter-agency convoys carrying essential medical supplies, water, food, water repair systems and generators have provided a lifeline to civilians encircled by fighting. But that is by no means enough, she said, noting that efforts are under way to discuss the further safe passage of civilians. “We must urgently take our efforts to scale,” she stressed.
As Council members took the floor, many emphasized the need to adhere to the critical international legal principle of civilian protection, while spotlighting the particular plight of Ukrainian children.
The representative of Brazil emphasized that schools and medical facilities should never be used for military purposes, while urging the implementation of resolution 2601 (2021) on the protection of education and the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration. Expressing alarm at the number of Ukrainian children who have become internally displaced persons and refugees, he called for support from the international community, especially to those children who are unaccompanied or separated from their families. For its part, Brazil has been granting humanitarian visas and residence permits for displaced Ukrainians and stateless persons affected or displaced by the conflict, he said.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates, lamenting the costs of conflict on children across the globe, called for a redoubling of efforts and commitment to ensure educational access. Education must be a priority as the international community responds to the urgent humanitarian needs in Ukraine, she said, noting that the protection of children — and all civilians — can only be assured through a cessation of hostilities and a diplomatic resolution. In that regard, she called on both sides to remain committed to dialogue and on the international community to support efforts to end the war.
More broadly, Kenya’s representative voiced concern “that the Council is settling into a familiar, tragic pattern” in the context of the Ukrainian conflict. Far too much energy and attention are being used to make and defend accusations of violations of international law. While efforts to advance humanitarian aims are critically important, he emphasized that they are not the Council’s primary responsibility and urged members to make every effort to find a path to a negotiated peace in Ukraine. He joined other speakers in condemning recent attacks on civilians, including the reported bombing of a school in Luhansk, while drawing the Council’s attention to the conflict’s impact on economies and vulnerable people around the globe — particularly in the global South.
The representative of Ukraine, pointing out that Russian strikes continued even as the recent evacuation of the Azovstal steel plant was under way, described hypocrisy in many of Moscow’s public statements on the plight of civilians and children. Some 130 Ukrainian educational facilities have been destroyed and more than 1,500 damaged by Russian forces to date, he said, noting that such acts are violations of international law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Meanwhile, more than a million children have been transferred to the Russian Federation, where their safety remains unknown. Welcoming the Human Rights Council’s launch of a commission of inquiry into crimes committed by the Russian Federation, he went on to condemn Moscow’s cynical use of the victory over Nazis in the Second World War to justify its current aggression, declaring: “Today’s standards of Russian diplomacy have gone through the floor, and all masks are off.”
The Russian Federation’s representative said the Council’s focus on education is critical as Kyiv has used indoctrination and educational discrimination as tools of war against its own population for years. Between 2014 and 2022, there were more than 200 incidents of education facilities being damaged in the Luhansk People’s Republic, and today, schools are once again under attack by Ukrainian forces. Noting that Russian armed forces are making every effort to protect children in the course of their special military operation in Ukraine, he rejected allegations to the contrary and questioned the sources of such information. He also voiced concern over double standards in which humanitarian law “exists for everyone, but not Kyiv”.
Also speaking were representatives of Mexico, France, Albania, Ghana, Norway, United Kingdom, Ireland, China, Gabon, India, United States, Estonia (on behalf of the Baltic States), Poland and Slovakia.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:30 p.m.