Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave an impassioned speech to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, urging representatives not to let permanent member Russia continue to go unpunished for what he described as “the most terrible war crimes” since World War II.
His remarks come a day after he visited the city of Bucha, where bodies were found in the streets and basements after the withdrawal of Russian forces. Zelenskyy described the alleged atrocities and said the world will likely see similar horrors in other cities still occupied by Russia and large-scale consequences like food insecurity and political chaos far beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Zelenskyy called on the Security Council to implement internal reforms to hold Russia—and, as he put it, other would-be war criminals—accountable. He urged it to remove Russia as a member “so it cannot block decisions about … its war.” If not, he said, it should “dissolve” itself.
Zelenskyy urged the council to stop the Russian invasion immediately and called for a war crimes tribunal—like the Nuremberg trials after World War II—to hold Russia accountable.
He also described Ukraine’s role in this process, saying that it has a “moral right” to propose reforms to the world security system since it has helped people from other conflict-ridden countries, such as Afghanistan, in their times of need.
Zelenskyy suggested convening a global conference to discuss how to enforce U.N. goals such as guaranteeing recognition of borders. And he also proposed opening a “preventative” U.N. office in Kyiv that would focus on promoting peace.
“We must do everything in our power to pass onto the next generation an effective U.N. with the ability to respond preventively to security challenges and thus guarantee peace, prevent aggression, and force aggressors to peace,” he said at one point.
Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., later repeated Russia’s claims without evidence that Ukraine had staged the scenes in Bucha and said that civilians were allowed to move around freely, use their cell phones and leave the town while it was under Russian control.
He accused Western countries of “fueling anti-Russian hysteria” by painting Russian soldiers as murderers and rapists, “an incredibly low blow.”
Zelenskyy also said that there is no single crime that Russian forces “will not commit.” He compared their actions to those of terrorist groups such as ISIS, with the only difference being that Russia sits on the Security Council.
Describing the scene in Bucha, near Kyiv, he accused Russian troops of killing entire families and trying to burn their bodies, torturing people, shooting them on the streets, throwing people into wells, killing them in their homes, and using tanks to crush cars with civilians inside “just for their pleasure.”
In even more graphic detail, he described them cutting off limbs, slashing throats, raping and killing women in front of their children, and pulling out peoples’ tongues “only because the aggressor did not hear what they wanted to hear. From them.”
Zelenskyy said that Russia needs Ukraine’s wealth and its people, saying it has deported hundreds of thousands of citizens to Russia, abducted children, and aims to turn Ukraine “into silent slaves.”
He also alleged that the Russian military is openly looting the cities and villages it has occupied, stealing everything from food supplies to “gold earrings that are pulled out and covered with blood.”
Zelenskyy said the scenes in Bucha are “unfortunately only one example of what the occupiers have been doing on our land for the past 41 days.” NPR has not independently confirmed the reports.
Russia has denied these reports and accused Ukraine of staging the killings in Bucha. Zelenskyy said such denials are part of a classic tactic to say that there are different narratives and that it’s impossible to establish which one is the truth.
“But it is 2023 now,” he said. “We have conclusive evidence, satellite images; we can conduct full and transparent investigations.”
He called for such an investigation and full access to journalists, cooperation of international organizations, and the involvement of the International Criminal Court, of which neither Russia nor Ukraine is a member.
“Geography may be different or various, but cruelty is the same, crimes are the same, and accountability must be inevitable,” he said.