Russia must be held accountable, Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskyy told the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, for what he and many Western leaders have called war crimes it committed.
The United States and its allies are preparing to expand sanctions against Moscow to isolate the Russian economy further on Wednesday by targeting financial institutions, state-owned companies and government officials, as well as banning new investment.
The West’s punishment of Moscow over its actions in Ukraine has been given new impetus this week following the discovery of civilians shot dead at close range in the Ukrainian town of Bucha seized from Russian forces.
US officials said new economic restrictions on Russia following Bucha would be taken in “lockstep” with other Group of Seven advanced economies and the EU.
Between 150 and 300 bodies might be in a mass grave by a church in Bucha, north of the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said on Tuesday.
In a live video address from Kyiv, Zelenskyy questioned the value of the 15-member Security Council, which has been unable to take any action over Russia’s 24 February invasion because permanent member Moscow is a veto power.
“We are dealing with a state that turns its veto at the UN Security Council into the right to (cause) death,” Zelenskyy said. “Russia wants to turn Ukraine into silent slaves.”
Responding to Zelenskyy, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Council that Russian troops were not targeting civilians.
The Kremlin said allegations that Russian forces had executed civilians in Bucha were a “monstrous forgery” staged by the West to discredit it.
Russia says it launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine to demilitarise and “denazify” a country that President Vladimir Putin regards as an illegitimate state.
The Kremlin’s position is rejected by Ukraine, a parliamentary democracy, and the West as a pretext for an unprovoked invasion that has uprooted a quarter of the country’s population.
The ambassador for Russia’s strategic partner China told the Security Council the reports and images showing civilian deaths in Bucha were “very disturbing” but said the circumstances should be verified and any accusations should be based on facts.
Ambassador Zhang Jun urged the United States, NATO and the EU to pursue dialogue with Russia rather than further sanctions he said were not effective in solving the crisis.
The tense Security Council meeting came amid heavy fighting in Ukraine’s south and east as Russia shifts its offensive away from Kyiv after failing to capture any major cities.
Reuters has seen at least four victims shot through the head in Bucha, one with their hands tied behind their back. Residents have recounted cases of several others slain, some shot through their eyes and one apparently beaten to death and mutilated.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian Serhii Lahovskyi buried the corpse of a childhood friend who had been shot through the mouth at very close range after disappearing when Russian troops occupied the town.
Lahovskyi and others grabbed shovels and dug a shallow grave on a grass verge. They used a carpet to carry the remains, placing him in a ditch before covering him with wooden boards and shovelling earth on top.
“Why did these animals shoot him so?” Lahovskyi said, sobbing. “This is not Russia, this is a monster.” (Source: CNA)