The UN rights chief said Monday, Dec. 5, he had met with activists in an underground shelter in Kyiv as missiles rained down and called for an end to the “senseless” war.
Volker Turk, who took over as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in October, arrived on Sunday for a four-day visit to Ukraine, which has been ravaged by war since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February.
He had been scheduled to meet with a number of human rights defenders in the Ukrainian capital on Monday, but then air sirens sounded and they had to move into an underground shelter.
In a shaky video seen by AFP, he was among a large group moving quickly along an alley and then down a flight of steps lined with cinder block walls as alarms wailed.
“I was on the point of meeting human rights defenders on my second day in Kyiv, and I had to move the meeting down here, to this shelter… because air sirens went off,” Turk said in the video, provided by his office.
“And as we were having this discussion here in this shelter there was a wave of missile attacks against Ukraine, including some of them ending up in the proximity of Kyiv,” he said.
Can’t be ‘new normal’
The video as well as a picture that Turk tweeted out showed him and other high-ranking UN rights officers sitting in the cold, dark cellar, bundled up in winter coats.
“Unbelievable that this is happening almost daily in Ukraine,” he said in the tweet.
“This must not become a new normal.”
His comments came after Ukraine was targeted on Monday by a new wave of deadly Russian missiles, the latest attack to disrupt power across the country and pile pressure on its embattled critical infrastructure as temperatures plunge.
Russia began targeting Ukraine’s energy grid in October, and the strikes have destroyed close to half of the Ukrainian energy system and left millions in the cold and dark at the onset of winter.
“I am in Ukraine at this point in time out of solidarity with the victims of this horrible war,” Turk said in another video message posted Monday on Twitter, laying the blame for the destruction squarely on Russia.
“I am here to express solidarity especially during these harsh winter months,” he said, standing in a snow-covered Kyiv street, wearing a woollen hat and a flak jacket over his winter coat.
The targeting of critical infrastructure in Ukraine comes after thousands of Ukrainian civilians have already been killed in the fighting and millions more forced to flee their homes.
“War is senseless. Killings of this kind are totally unacceptable and senseless,” Turk said in the second video.
“I can only appeal to those who have done this, that they stop doing it, and that they respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”
During his Ukraine visit, which is due to wrap up on Wednesday, Turk is scheduled to visit the capital and neighbouring areas, as well as Kharkiv and Izyum in the east and Uzhhorod in the west.
His office said last week he would meet with senior national and local government officials, civil society and representatives of victims’ groups, including relatives of missing or captured civilians and prisoners of war.
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