UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. humanitarian chief on Tuesday decried the "colossal" torment Ukraine is suffering from "senseless war" and Russian destruction of its infrastructure.
That view was echoed by the United States and its Western allies at a U.N. Security Council meeting, but strongly opposed by Russia, which accused Ukraine of seeking its destruction.
Humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths outlined the toll of "the widespread death, displacement and suffering" caused since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, exacerbated by Moscow's recent attacks that have created an energy and water crisis in the country as temperatures plummet below freezing.
Over 14 million people are now forcibly displaced from their homes, including 7.8 million living across Europe and 6.5 million still within the country, he said. A total of 17,023 civilians have been killed, including 419 children as of Dec. 1, according to the U.N. human rights office, though "the real toll is far greater," and there have been at least 715 attacks on health care operations.
"In Ukraine today, the ability of civilians to survive is under attack," Griffiths said, pointing to strikes on power stations and heating plants that have left millions of people without access to heat, electricity and water in sub-freezing temperatures, families deprived of health care, and children unable to go to school.
Griffiths put the urgent need to help Ukrainians get through the winter in the broader context of "a world gone mad," saying the number of people globally needing humanitarian assistance next year is projected to rise by nearly 24% to 339 million. As a result, the U.N. humanitarian appeal for 2023 is a record $51.5 billion.
U.S. deputy ambassador Lisa Carty told the council that global hunger "already at extreme levels" because of the COVID-19 pandemic, other conflicts and climate change surged this year "because Russia disrupted the world's global food systems." She said Russia turned "Ukraine's rolling wheat fields into battlefields" and destroyed Ukrainian grain once supplied to the developing world.
"Now, as Ukraine fights back to reclaim its sovereign territory and defend its people, President (Vladimir) Putin has focused his ire and fire on Ukraine's civilian population," she said, pointing to the barrage of missile strikes and destruction of critical infrastructure.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, claimed a Ukrainian Security Council official recently said Western weapons were needed to destroy Russians "so that they stop existing as a country."
Moscow has to react "to such hateful rhetoric by Kyiv … to counter these heinous actions, including by conducting strikes on infrastructure that are used for military supplies for logistics and communications for the Ukrainian armed formations," he said. "In other words, we will weaken the Zelenskyy regime."
Nebenzia insisted Russia was conducting "precision strikes" and claimed civilian infrastructure wouldn't suffer if Ukraine had not placed air defense systems in residential areas
Carty recalled that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield during her recent visit to Kyiv that he is seeking "a just peace" based on the U.N. Charter and its principles.
She said Putin's escalating attacks on Ukraine's infrastructure "are evidence that he has no genuine interest in negotiation or meaningful diplomacy."
"Instead, he is trying to break Ukraine's will to fight by bombing and freezing its civilians into submission," Carty said. "But he will not succeed because Ukraine is fighting for its freedom and for the future of its children, and we will do everything in our power to keep hope alive in Ukraine."
Nebenzia told the council that "we confirm our willingness to conduct negotiations" and that "the aim would be to eradicate the root causes that forced us to start our special military operation in Ukraine."
But, he argued. the West isn't interested "in a political diplomatic settlement," pointing to NATO's decision to expand weapons deliveries to Ukraine at its Nov. 29-30 meeting.
This confirms "its desire not only to have a further escalation of the conflict, but to destabilize the situation in Europe as a whole," he said.
Nebenzia said there is growing evidence that Western weapons earmarked for Ukraine "are increasingly falling into the hands of bandits and terrorists of different stripes, not only in Europe but also in the Middle East and Africa."
He said Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari "confirmed that the conflict in Ukraine is the main source of weapons for terrorists in the Lake Chad basin."
Nebenzia said this problem "creates a real threat to international peace and security" and called for a Security Council meeting Friday on this issue.