Russia chairs UN meeting on hospital strike in Ukraine

United Nations Security Council members have confronted Russia over a missile strike the previous day that destroyed part of Ukraine's largest children's hospital, pouring out condemnations at an emergency meeting chaired by the Russian ambassador. 

Russia denies responsibility for the strike at the hospital, where at least two staffers were killed, and says it was likely hit by Ukrainian anti-missile fire.

France and Ecuador asked for the session at the Security Council but Russia led it as the current holder of the council's rotating presidency, putting ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on the receiving end of the criticism.

"Mr President, please stop this war. It has been going on for too long," Slovenian ambassador Samuel Zbogar appealed.

US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told colleagues that they were there "because Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, current rotational president of the Security Council, attacked a children’s hospital".

"Even uttering that phrase sends a chill down my spine," she added.

Nebenzia characterised the slew of criticism as "verbal gymnastics" from countries trying to protect Ukraine's government. 

Vasily Nebenzia
Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzia insists a Ukrainian air defence rocket hit a Kyiv hospital.

He reiterated Russian denials of responsibility for the hospital attack, insisting it was hit by a Ukrainian air defence rocket.

"If this had been a Russian strike, there would have been nothing left of the building," Nebenzia said, adding that "all the children and most of the adults would have been killed, and not wounded".

The strike on the Okhmatdyt children's hospital was part of a massive daytime barrage in multiple cities, including the capital Kyiv. 

Officials said at least 42 people were killed across the country. 

The attack also damaged Ukraine's main specialist hospital for women and hit key energy infrastructure.

At Okhmatdyt, "the ground shook and the walls trembled. Both children and adults screamed and cried from fear, and the wounded from pain," cardiac surgeon and anesthesiologist Volodymyr Zhovnir told the Security Council by video from Kyiv.

"It was a real hell."

Later, he heard people crying out for help from beneath the rubble. 

Most of the more than 600 young patients had been moved to bomb shelters, except those in surgery, Zhovnir said. 

He said more than 300 people were injured, including eight children, and two adults died - one of them a young doctor. 

Acting UN humanitarian chief Joyce Msuya stressed to the Security Council that intentionally attacking a hospital is a war crime. 

She called Monday's strikes "part of a deeply concerning pattern of systematic attacks harming health care and other civilian infrastructure across Ukraine".

Since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the UN World Health Organisation has verified 1878 attacks affecting health care facilities, personnel, transport, supplies and patients, she said.

Even against that backdrop, several council members pronounced Monday's strike shocking. 

UK ambassador Barbara Woodward called it "cowardly depravity".

Ecuadorian envoy José De La Gasca described it as "particularly intolerable".

To Slovenia's Zbogar, it was "another low in this war of aggression".

Woodward and some others reiterated longstanding calls for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

Chinese deputy ambassador Geng Shuang expressed concern about the loss of civilian lives and infrastructure, urging both sides to exercise "rationality and restraint" and "show political will, meet each other halfway and start peace talks".

Earlier on Tuesday in Geneva, Danielle Bell, who heads a UN team monitoring human rights in Ukraine, said the hospital likely was struck by a Russian Kh-101 cruise missile. 

At the UN headquarters, Ukrainian ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya showed the Security Council photos of what his country asserts were fragments showing the projectile's Russian origin plus a map purportedly showing a missile's path from Russian territory and, via a sharp turn, to the children's hospital. 

"Yesterday, Russia deliberately targeted perhaps the most vulnerable and defenceless group in any society: children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses," Kyslytsya said. 

Kyslytsya, whose country is not on the 15-member council, criticised Nebenzia for occupying the president's seat after the bloodshed.

"In accordance with the traditions of the council presidency, and purely as the president of the council," Nebenzia dryly replied, "I am compelled to thank Ukraine for their statement".

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