UN condemns Russia as 900,000 people flee Ukraine

Kyiv and Moscow to talk again amid increasingly bloody invasion

The United Nations general assembly has condemned Russia's attack on Ukraine amid continued fierce fighting that Kyiv says has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 civilians and which Moscow admitted for the first time has killed hundreds of its troops.

A second round of tentative talks between Ukraine and Russia are scheduled for Thursday, a week after the Kremlin launched an invasion that the UN says has prompted some 900,000 Ukrainians to flee their homeland, most of them into neighbouring European Union countries.

Late on Wednesday night, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor on Wednesday said he would immediately open an investigation into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine, following requests to do so by an unprecedented number of the court’s member states.

“Active investigations formally commence in Ukraine upon receipt of referrals by 39 state parties”, prosecutor Karim Khan tweeted.

The referrals by member states fast-track an investigation as it allows the prosecutor to skip having to seek approval of the court in The Hague, shaving months off the process. The prosecutor had already said on Monday that he would seek court approval into allegations of war crimes in Ukraine.

The prosecutor’s office would start collecting evidence for “any past and present allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide committed on any part of the territory of Ukraine by any person”, Mr Khan said in a statement.

Russia is not a member of the ICC and rejects its jurisdiction.

The court can investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on Ukraine territory regardless of the nationality of the suspected perpetrators.

Explosion near station

International reaction to Russian president Vladimir Putin's decision to launch all-out war on Ukraine has plunged his country into deep isolation in everything from finance to sport, and billionaire Roman Abramovich on Wednesday put Chelsea Football Club up for sale.

Ukraine’s forces said they still held all the nation’s major cities – denying Russian claims to have taken the southern city of Kherson – and were fighting off the invasion force in the eastern city of Kharkiv, even as missiles struck civilian sites in its centre.

The Ukrainian rail operator on Wednesday night reported an explosion near Kyiv’s main railway station – from where many thousands of people have been fleeing the city – but said trains were still operating.

Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov said earlier in the day that at least 21 people had been killed and 112 injured over the previous 24 hours, as Russian missiles struck a university building and administrative offices in the city of 1.4 million people.

“We are holding the city, holding the region ... All attacks were repulsed, the Russian enemy suffered significant losses,” he said.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said some 6,000 Russian troops had died on his country's territory: "To get what? To get Ukraine? This is impossible. This won't be changed by missiles, bombs, tanks or any blows. We are on our native land. And for the war against us there will be an international tribunal for them."

Casualties

Moscow said 498 of its soldiers were killed and 1,597 injured in six days of fighting, during which it claimed more than 2,870 Ukrainian soldiers and “nationalists” had died and about 3,700 been wounded; Kyiv has not released casualty figures for its troops.

In its first emergency session since 1997, the UN general assembly voted overwhelmingly for a resolution stating that it “deplores” Russia’s “aggression against Ukraine”; 141 of its 193 members backed the resolution and only five opposed it.

“The message of the general assembly is loud and clear: end hostilities in Ukraine – now. Silence the guns – now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy – now,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres.

“The territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine must be respected . . . We don’t have a moment to lose. The brutal effects of the conflict are plain to see. But as bad as the situation is for the people in Ukraine right now, it threatens to get much, much worse. The ticking clock is a time bomb.”

Russia calls its invasion a “special operation” to remove supposed “Nazi” influence in Ukraine and to demilitarise a country that has sought rapid integration with the West since a revolution in 2014. Moscow also demands that Kyiv recognise Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine just weeks after the revolution.

Delegates from Kyiv and Moscow are scheduled to hold a second round of talks on Thursday on the border of Belarus and Poland.

Meanwhile, Russia’s economic outlook and many major firms are reeling from sweeping sanctions imposed by western nations and their allies worldwide; Russia’s private and commercial aircraft are being banned from much western airspace, its sports teams face isolation and its politically-connected “oligarchs” may come under much closer scrutiny.

Billionaire Roman Abramovich announced he is selling Chelsea FC after 19 years of ownership, and will use the proceeds “for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine” and for “providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery”. – Additional reporting Reuters

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe

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