What's In Blue

Posted Mon 8 Jul 2024

Ukraine: Emergency Meeting

Tomorrow morning (9 July), the Security Council will convene for an emergency meeting on Ukraine. Ecuador and France, supported by Slovenia, the UK, and the US, requested the meeting following a series of Russian missile attacks targeting multiple cities across Ukraine on 8 July, including a strike that caused significant damage to the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital in Kyiv. An OCHA official and a civil society representative are expected to brief. Ukraine and other regional countries are expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

On 8 July, Russia launched a wave of missile attacks targeting multiple Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, Kryvyi Rih, Dnipro, Sloviansk, and Kramatorsk. Ukrainian authorities reported that these attacks resulted in at least 33 deaths and 140 injuries. In Kyiv, two of Ukraine’s major hospitals specialising in paediatric and women’s care were hit. The strikes in Kyiv caused significant damage to Okhmatdyt, one of Ukraine’s largest children’s hospitals, affecting its intensive care, surgical, and oncology wards. The hospital’s toxicology department, where children receive dialysis, was destroyed. Additionally, a separate attack in Kyiv resulted in the deaths of at least seven civilians at the ISIDA medical centre, one of Ukraine’s largest women’s health and family planning centres.

In an 8 July post on X (formerly Twitter), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russia “cannot claim ignorance of where its missiles are flying and must be held fully accountable for all its crimes”. Russia has denied that it deliberately targeted civilian facilities and asserted that the strike on the children’s hospital in Kyiv was “caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile launched by an anti-aircraft missile system” in Kyiv.

Russia’s latest missile attacks were condemned by several international interlocutors, including UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who stressed that attacks against civilians and civilian objects are “unacceptable and must end immediately”. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine Denise Brown echoed this message, emphasising the tragic toll on children, while the Executive Director of UNICEF, Catherine Russell, highlighted the special protection afforded to hospitals under international law and underscored that “[c]ivilians, including children and the facilities and services they rely on, must always be protected.”

In an 8 July statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk deplored the wave of Russian missile strikes targeting densely populated areas of Ukraine, noting that “[a]mong the victims were Ukraine’s sickest children”. Türk described how a team from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) witnessed “children receiving treatment for cancer in hospital beds set up in parks and on streets, where medical workers had quickly established triage areas, amongst chaos, dust and debris”. Türk emphasised the urgent need for prompt, thorough, and independent investigations into these attacks, stressing that “those responsible must be held to account”.

The wave of Russian aerial attacks occurred just before the US-hosted NATO summit scheduled to take place between 9 and 11 July in Washington DC, commemorating the alliance’s 75th anniversary. The summit is expected to feature discussion on NATO’s assistance to Ukraine as a key agenda item. During a 5 July press call previewing the summit, a senior US administration official indicated that NATO members plan to unveil significant new measures to bolster military, political, and financial support to Ukraine. This initiative, described as a bridge to NATO membership, includes plans for training, equipment coordination, logistics, and force development.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the OCHA official is expected to provide an overview of the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, highlighting the ongoing relief efforts by the UN and its partner organisations in Kyiv in response to the recent series of Russian missile attacks. The official may note the severe effects of these attacks on healthcare infrastructure across Ukraine. As at 8 July, the World Health Organization (WHO) had documented 1,878 attacks on healthcare facilities since the start of the war, accounting for almost half of all such attacks reported worldwide since 24 February. The WHO has verified 507 casualties, including 148 deaths, related to these attacks.

The OCHA official is also likely to note that recent months have witnessed the highest number of civilian casualties attributed to Russian attacks in nearly a year. A 3 July OHCHR report indicated that Russia’s increased military operations resulted in a significant rise in civilian casualties and extensive damage to civilian property and infrastructure, particularly in frontline communities. OHCHR documented that, between 10 and 31 May alone, the Russian cross-border offensive in the Kharkiv region resulted in 383 civilian casualties, including 78 deaths, adding that this increase in casualties was attributed largely to the Russian forces’ intensified use of powerful air-dropped bombs with extended range.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members are expected to condemn the Russian missile strikes that struck numerous civilian sites in Ukraine this morning, with a particular emphasis on the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital in Kyiv. These members may also highlight the increasing civilian casualties resulting from the intensified hostilities and draw attention to the significant displacement caused by Russia’s ground offensive in early May, especially in villages of the north-eastern Kharkiv region. (For more information, see our 6 June What’s in Blue story.) Some Council members may argue that such attacks underscore the urgent need to bolster international support for Ukraine.

Some members may emphasise the importance of conducting an impartial investigation into the circumstances of the recent missile strikes. A relevant precedent in this regard is a 5 October 2023 report titled Attack on Funeral Reception in Hroza, prepared by OHCHR through the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU). This report documented findings related to an attack on a café in Hroza, a village in the Kharkiv region, where 59 people were killed during a gathering following the burial of a local member of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Tomorrow, Russia is expected to deny allegations that it deliberately targets civilians and civilian objects in Ukraine, asserting instead that it uses long-range precision weaponry to target military infrastructure. In an 8 July post on X, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy attributed the hospital attack to a “stray air-defense missile from the Norwegian NASAMS system”, which he claimed was “placed in a residential area in blatant violation of [international humanitarian law]”.

Tomorrow’s briefing will be the first formal meeting on Ukraine during a Russian presidency of the Security Council since February 2022, when Russia presided over the Council at the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine. During Russia’s most recent Council presidency in April 2023, no formal meetings on Ukraine were held; instead, Council members convened two Arria-formula meetings (an informal format) on Ukraine. In February 2022, Ukraine mentioned rule 20 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure during two meetings presided over by Russia. This rule refers to a situation where, if the president of the Council is directly connected to a question that is being addressed, that Council member should not preside and the presidential chair should move to the next member in alphabetical order. During a press conference ahead of Russia’s presidency in April 2023, Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said that Russia would not recuse itself from presiding over Council meetings concerning Ukraine, indicating that the P3 (France, the UK, and the US), which have also presided over Ukraine meetings, “are directly involved in the situation”.

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