UNITED NATIONS — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded that global leaders hold Russia accountable for its monthslong assault on his nation in a U.N. address to world leaders on Wednesday.
“Russia should pay for this war,” Zelenskyy said, calling for a special U.N. tribunal to “punish Russia.”
“We must finally recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism,” he said, reiterating previous calls made in the early days of the war.
Zelenskyy’s dramatic remarks, in English and nearly 30-minutes long, came on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to mobilize hundreds of thousands of troops for war.
Zelenskyy, who has not left his war-weary nation since Russia’s full-throttle invasion in February, appeared virtually after an introduction by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the 77th U.N. General Assembly. Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal flanked Kuleba.
Zelenskyy is the only leader to address the international forum in this manner, an extraordinary exception that was held to a vote last week.
The 193-member world body approved Zelenskky’s virtual remarks by a 101-7 vote, with 19 abstentions including China. Belarus, Cuba, Eritrea, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia and Syria were the seven countries that voted against Zelenskyy’s request.
During his remarks, the Ukrainian president called out those seven nations for being “afraid of a video address.”
Zelenskyy’s address, which received nearly a minute of applause and a standing ovation, comes as Russia’s war enters its eighth month with the Kremlin showing no signs of relinquishing ambitions to erase Ukrainian sovereignty in order to restore the Soviet empire.
“Nations of the world, Ukraine wants peace,” Zelenskyy said.
“Europe wants peace. The world wants peace. And we have seen who is the only one who wants war. There is only one entity among all U.N. member states who would say now if he could interrupt my speech, that he is happy with this war, his war,” he added, without naming Putin.
Zelenskyy described mass graves uncovered in the recently recaptured city of Izium, in northeastern Ukraine.
“The bodies of women and men, children and adults, civilians and soldiers were found in 445 graves,” he said, adding that some were bound and tortured before their deaths. He described, in grisly detail, the body of one man, who was found castrated before he was murdered.
“Russia wants to spend the winter on the occupied territory of Ukraine and prepare for a new offensive: new Buchas, new Iziums,” he said, referencing mass executions and graves discovered in Bucha in April.
The U.N. estimates Russia’s war has so far claimed nearly 6,000 civilian lives and led to more than 8,600 injuries. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights adds that the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher.
What’s more, the conflict took another anxious turn on Wednesday morning when Putin voiced his support for a referendum to decide if four occupied regions of Ukraine should join Russia. The move is believed to be a Kremlin attempt to annex additional swaths of its ex-Soviet neighbor. The votes could happen as soon as this weekend.
Putin also ordered approximately 300,000 Russian military reservists to join the fight. The partial mobilization, Russia’s first since World War II, follows a series of stunning Ukrainian advances in recent days.
Ukrainian forces, equipped with a plethora of Western weapons, have made significant gains against the Kremlin’s mighty war machine.
The United States has so far provided Kyiv with a war chest worth more than $15 billion. Meanwhile, NATO allies have bolstered security throughout the region, taken in refugees and trained Ukrainian forces.
Zelenskyy called for more arms as his nation carries out an era-defining fight for democratic principles and global order. He specifically asked for long-range weapons, heavy artillery and air defense systems.
He also asked for humanitarian and financial support as well as help with reconstruction projects. The European Commission and World Bank estimate that it will cost at least $349 billion to rebuild Ukraine after the war.
While nearly every leader who has stepped behind the famed speaker’s rostrum to address the international forum has condemned Russia for its ongoing assault, Zelenskyy urged leaders to publicly establish where they stand on the war.
Without explicitly naming countries, the Ukrainian president criticized nations that have taken a neutral stance in the face of Russia’s war.
“They pretend to protect someone, but in reality, they only protect their vested interests,” he said.