Volodymyr Zelenskiy has told the UN general assembly that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine and urged world leaders to attend a peace summit to help stop the invasion and future wars of aggression.
Appearing in the assembly chamber in New York for the first time in person, the Ukrainian president used the opportunity to try to galvanise support for his country’s plight among many countries, especially in the global south, many of whom have sought to sit on the fence in the face of the full-scale Russian invasion.
Zelenskiy said he would give further details of his peace plan, based on national sovereignty and territorial integrity, at a special session of the security council on Wednesday. He said all leaders “who do not tolerate any aggression” would be invited to a peace summit. He did not say when or where the meeting would be held, but he has previously expressed the hope it would happen by autumn this year.
Zelenskiy, dressed in an olive green long-sleeved polo shirt, used the word “genocide” to refer to the abduction of tens of thousands of Ukrainian children by Russian occupation authorities, who the Ukrainian president said were being brainwashed into hating their homeland.
“Never before has mass kidnapping and deportation become a part of the government policy. Not until now,” Zelenskiy said, adding that the Ukrainian government knew of the names of tens of thousands of abducted children and had “evidence of hundreds of thousands of others kidnapped by Russia in the occupied territories of Ukraine and later deported”.
The international criminal court has issued arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and a top aide for their involvement in ordering the child deportations.
“We are trying to get the children back home, but time goes by and what will happen to them? Those children in Russia are taught to hate Ukraine and all ties with their families are broken. And this is clearly a genocide,” Zelenskiy said, adding: “When hatred is weaponized against one nation, it never stops there.”
The speech was watched from the Russian seats in the chamber by Moscow’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, who wrote in a notebook from time to time and occasionally grinned.
Zelenskiy also accused Russia of weaponising food and energy, noting “there are many conventions that restrict weapons but there are no real restrictions on weaponisation”.
He explained how Ukraine and its partners were trying to work around the Russian blockade of Black Sea ports, but he had bitter criticism for Ukraine’s neighbours who have periodically blocked the export of Ukrainian produce westwards for fear it would compete with domestic output and lower prices.
He said “some of our friends in Europe” whose expressions of solidarity were “political theatre” were, by restricting imports from Ukraine, “helping set the stage for a Moscow actor”.
He said that Russia, having long used oil and gas as a weapon, was now weaponising nuclear energy, pointing to the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which he said Moscow had turned into a potential “dirty bomb”.
The goal of the Russian military campaign, the president said, was to turn Ukraine and its people, land and resources “into a weapon against you, against the international rules-based order”. If the Russians succeeded, he warned, “many seats in the general assembly hall may become empty”.
He said the Ukrainian peace blueprint, which involves a Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory, accountability for war crimes and restitution for damages, represented “a real chance to end aggression on the terms of the nation which was attacked”.
Zelenskiy added: “While Russia is pushing the world to a final war, Ukraine is doing everything to ensure that after this Russian aggression, no one in the world will dare to attack any nation.”