Statement by Mr. Vadym Prystaiko, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, at the UN General Assembly plenary meeting on the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine

Statement by Mr. Vadym Prystaiko, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, at the UN General Assembly plenary meeting on the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine

Mr. President,

I wish to start by expressing my appreciation of your leadership and assure you of Ukraine’s full support of your activity.

I am honoured to speak from the high rostrum of the United Nations as the Foreign Minister of one of the founding members of the United Nations.

Back in 1945 in San Francisco the representatives of Ukraine insisted that the special responsibility of the permanent members of the Security Council would be by itself a reliable conflict prevention tool.

Today, as we are about to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, we witness as one of the permanent members attempted to annex and occupied parts of the territory of my country and continues to kill our citizens.

The day before yesterday the Security Council considered the situation in the east of Ukraine. Notably it took place just hours after the Ukrainian positions were brutally attacked by the Russian occupation forces leaving one soldier dead and six wounded.

And when that very permanent member tried to impose his vision of the situation, he for the reasons well understood did not find support among Council’s members.

We respect the Security Council and its statutory unique role in the maintenance of international peace and security. We regret that the aggressor state undermines the Council’s capacities and makes it a more compelling case for us to address the issue of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine in the General Assembly, the chief and most representative policy-making organ of the United Nations, the body which in the past six years has played an instrumental role in exposing the Russian aggression against Ukraine and bringing about international responsibility of the aggressor-state for its internationally wrongful acts.

A strong voice of the UN General Assembly remains a crucial element of international pressure to make Russia abide by international law and stop its aggression against Ukraine.

Since 2014, the Assembly has adopted seven resolutions condemning Russian aggression and temporary occupation of parts of the Ukrainian territory.

It was the General Assembly that in March 2014 in its resolution «Territorial Integrity of Ukraine» reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders and the absence of any legal basis to change the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

It was also the same General Assembly that unambiguously qualified Russia as an occupying Power and urged the Russian Federation to end its temporary occupation of Ukraine’s territory without delay.

We should be all rightfully proud of the fact that this UN body has raised its strong voice to protect the UN Charter and universal values, contributing to realization of the vision of “The future we want, the UN we need”.

We understand clearly that this Organization is dealing with numerous pressing problems, which have global impact. But we also should admit that no issue has to be abandoned unless it is successfully resolved, especially when it directly threatens international peace and security.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to thank ALL our friends for their outstanding solidarity with my country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This day of 2014 will remain in the history books and records as the day when the permanent Council’s member brought war, death and destruction into an everyday life of my fellow Ukrainians.
History books will also refer to this day as the day, which dealt a huge blow to the whole system of the international law based on the UN Charter.

Regretfully, we have to recognize that the events of 20 February 2014 were an expected result of the way the international community, including the United Nations, allowed one of its members to seize territories of other members and totally ignore the fundamentals of international law and security system, as designed 75 years ago.

The lack of adequate response to the spiraling level of the violations and impunity for these violations resulted in a precedent of a global scope – today none of us can feel safe and protected by the Charter of the United Nations, unless we turn the tide. And that will be genuinely the best thing to do to honor the Organization when our leaders meet here at the 75th anniversary in the fall.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me quickly update you on the scope of the sufferings of the people of Ukraine as a result of such violations.

About 44 000 square km - or some 7% of the territory of Ukraine – are now under foreign occupation in blatant violation of the United Nations Charter. Over 14 000 people killed and more than
27 000 wounded. About two million residents of Crimea and Donbas have been forced to flee their homes and become internally displaced persons or refugees.

The dire humanitarian situation in the conflict-affected areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions continues to deteriorate. More than 3.4 million people are expected to require humanitarian assistance in 2020. Over half a million people live in the areas directly affected by the armed conflict, while another two million people are exposed to landmines and explosive remnants of war. This area, according to the UN, has already become one of the most mine-contaminated stretches of land in the world. In early February 2020, the United Nations introduced the Ukraine Humanitarian Response Plan for the current year, which calls for US$158 million to assist two million people. I call upon the international community to contribute to this endeavor.

The occupied areas have become a territory of fear and terror. The occupying authorities – be it in Crimea or in parts of Donbas – use repressions, resorting to systematic and large-scale violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Economy in the occupied Donbas has been destroyed. Sophisticated equipment of many strategic enterprises in the area was dismantled and moved to Russia. Each of these enterprises produced high quality goods, providing jobs for thousands of Ukrainians. Now all of them are shut down.

The environmental situation is under direct risk, as some coal mines in Donbas were neglected, abandoned and flooded. Such an irresponsible behavior could further lead to the contamination of underground water reservoirs, causing water related diseases and threatening agriculture across the region.

Nevertheless, Russian occupation authorities do not allow access to experts to assess potential environmental threats and identify ways to address them.

Mr. President,

We are often asked if there is progress? Let me recall the major developments that have taken place since the last consideration by the UN General Assembly of the agenda item “Situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”.

In April 2019, the Ukrainian people elected a new President in the exemplary democratic, competitive and open elections thus proving once again that Russian narrative of “the coup which brought to power in Kyiv Nazi regime” as totally groundless and simply a lie.

The restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine by peaceful means has become President Zelenskyy’s utmost priority and this commitment fully reflects the peaceful aspirations of the Ukrainian people.

There have been twenty recommitments for a comprehensive ceasefire. Ukraine abides by it, while Russian forces and its proxies continue shelling and attacks. In January 2020 alone, attacks by the Russian armed formations left 11 Ukrainian servicemen dead and 33 wounded. This number is actually higher than at the respective period of the last year.

Ukraine extended the duration of the Law on special order of self-governance and agreed on a number of steps in a political domain, while Russia continues illegal passportization and other measures, aimed at attaching occupied Donbas to the Russian political and economic space.

Ukraine launches new humanitarian initiatives for occupied Donbas to ensure access of locals to social payments and state services, while Russia consolidates there the policy of terror and fear, resembling the witch hunting of the notorious Stalin times.

It speaks volumes that puppet structure, created, staffed and financed by Russian state budget responsible for repressions against local population in Donbas, bear the name of the notorious Soviet institution of MGB (the KGB predecessor), responsible for crimes against own people in the middle of the last century.

Ukraine is eager to reinvigorate international frameworks – Normandy 4 and Trilateral Contact Group – to seek for comprehensive and sustainable solution together with Russia and mediating partners. The latest Summit in the Normandy format held on 9 December 2019 for the first time over the last three years once again proved our commitment to achieve the resolution of this conflict.

Mr. President,

For us, in Ukraine, every life counts, and we will make every possible effort to reunite all our families and to restore our boundaries.

And it is truly the personal commitment of President Zelenskyy to do everything possible to return our fellow countrymen and women to their families and loved ones. He could not wait until the Russian Federation fulfills its obligations under direct order of the Hamburg Tribunal to return 24 Ukrainian sailors captured in the Kerch straight but exchanged them for very bad people detained in our jails but needed in Russia.

The important result of the December N4 summit was a successful mutual release of detainees. Now we are working hard on the following release and we hope it will be realized soon and bring home hundreds of our people. This humanitarian mission could be even more successful if the ICRC would finally get full access to the detainees in the non-controlled areas as well as allowed to conduct search for missing persons.

Unfortunately, the number of ceasefire violations by Russian-backed forces is not decreasing, causing further losses of human lives and damage to infrastructure. On top of that, there is still no sign that the occupying Power is willing to provide unhindered access of the OSCE SMM throughout the occupied territories.

We are ready for a dialogue with Donbas residents, but not with the fake puppets, so-called “representatives”. This dialogue must be inclusive with all those, who are temporarily displaced from Donbas within Ukraine. The voice of those internally displaced persons should also be heard in Minsk.

We look forward to holding local elections on the whole territory of Ukraine. However, without basic security and political prerequisites the people of Donbas, including those who were forced to flee their homes, will not have a chance to make their democratic choice at the elections, which should be certified as legitimate by Ukraine and by the international community, based on the existing and recognized standards.

That is why the “security first” principle, that the logic of Minsk Agreements is based upon, remains at the core of peaceful settlement. Russia should immediately implement the security arrangements reached by the Normandy Four leaders as there is no other way for progress on other tracks, including steps in political domain.

I reiterate that one could hardly hope for peace until a 400-km section of the Ukrainian-Russian state border remains an open gate for Russian weaponry and military personnel. International presence along the border, mandated by the UN, could have been an answer.

Mr. President,

The situation in Crimea, temporarily occupied by Russia, remains a matter of major alarm.

The General Assembly in Resolutions 73/194 and 74/17 expressed its grave concern over the progressive militarization of Crimea by the Russian Federation as the occupying Power, as well as over reports of the continuing destabilization of Crimea owing to transfers by the Russian Federation of weapon systems, including nuclear-capable aircraft and missiles.

It also urged the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power, to withdraw its military forces from Crimea and to end its temporary occupation of Ukrainian territory without delay.
All these demands remain ignored by Russia.

Violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the occupying Power continue unabated in Crimea. Numerous GA Resolutions condemn abuses, measures and practices of discrimination against the residents of the temporarily occupied Crimea, including Crimean Tatars, as well as Ukrainians and persons belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, by the Russian occupation authorities.

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has been denied access to Crimea, and they are not the only ones. None of the established intergovernmental organizations, including the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe or UNESCO, have been able to conduct monitoring activities within the scope of their mandate, as Russia insisted that any monitoring if Crimea can only happen when the status of Crimea as part the Russian Federation is recognized.

Of course, it is impossible under international law, UN Charter and hence – the decisions of this Assembly.

In the latest report on situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, the Secretary-General made it abundantly clear that Russia is responsible for the violations of human rights in Crimea and must immediately uphold its obligations under international human rights law.

The occupation of Crimea led to yet another form of discrimination and violation of human rights. And here I refer to the plight of the Muslims – Crimean Tatars, and the Orthodox of the Church of Ukraine in the occupied territories.

We believe that the issue of religious freedoms should be additionally addressed by this Assembly and welcome relevant initiatives by the partners.

Mr. President,

The Russian Federation spares no effort to legitimize its illegal occupation of Crimea by conducting unlawful elections there, sending its emissaries illegitimately elected in Crimea to international fora, or by assigning Russian telephone codes to Crimea, and applying its law to punish local residents who – we must be reminded – remain under the protection of the Geneva Conventions.

Following the practices widely used in Crimea, in the temporary occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions Russia, the occupying power, illegally imposes its citizenship on the local population, thus further violating the norms of international humanitarian law and the sovereignty of Ukraine.

But even though Kremlin remains blind and deaf to the appeals and decisions of the international community, I am absolutely convinced that international unity and solidarity, respect and promotion of human rights is the only way to stop Moscow aggression against my country and eventually lead to de-occupation of the parts of the territory of Ukraine.

Mr. President,

I would like to conclude by expressing my deep conviction of the role of the General Assembly, the most democratic body of the United Nations.

I am looking forward to today’s discussion, which could provide further impetus to our common efforts towards restoring respect for international law and the UN Charter and bringing an end to the, hopefully, last war in Europe.

I thank you.