“When I see those destroyed buildings, I must say what I feel. I imagined my family in one of those houses that is now destroyed and black,” the secretary general said to journalists in the town of Borodyanka, one of the three war-torn towns he visited. “I see my granddaughters running away in panic, part of the family eventually killed.”
“The war is an absurdity in the 21st century,” Guterres said. “The war is evil.”
In Borodyanka, where Washington Post reporters witnessed scenes of utter devastation caused by Russian airstrikes, Guterres spoke to the area’s governor, who told him that although residents were returning, some were still looking for bodies in houses.
Upon returning to Kyiv from his visit to devastated suburbs, the secretary general was “visibly affected — personally affected by it,” Kris Janowski, the U.N. spokesperson for Ukraine, told U.N. News.
“Wherever there is a war, the highest price is paid by civilians,” Guterres said in Irpin, northwest of Kyiv. He was speaking from the destroyed Irpinksy Lipki residential complex, and said everyone should remember that “innocent civilians were living in these buildings. They were paying the highest price for a war for which they have not contributed at all.”
Giving remarks at a press conference with Zelensky, the U.N. secretary general reiterated that Russia’s invasion was a violation of its territorial integrity and of the United Nations charter. He made the visit to Ukraine, he said, to focus on ways the United Nations could “expand support for the people of Ukraine, saving lives, reduce suffering and help find the path of peace.”
Guterres called out the United Nation’s Security Council, which is charged with ensuring security and international peace, for “fail[ing] to do everything in its power to prevent and end this war. This is a source of great disappointment, frustration and anger.”
Still, he said many across the United Nations are working to assist Ukraine. Guterres said the United Nations was expanding cash assistance to distribute $100 million per month, reaching 1.3 million people by May.
“This is not a typical humanitarian U.N. operation in a developing country, with lots of problems of governance and lots of difficulties,” he said. “Ukraine is a country with a government and a system of support to its citizens, and so the role of the U.N. is not to replace that system, it is to support the Government to support the people of Ukraine.”
He reiterated his call for the war to end, saying that while efforts to stop the fighting have not succeeded, “we will not give up.”
“In many ways, we are at ground zero for the world we need to build — a world of respect for international law, the U.N. Charter and the power of multilateralism, a world that protects civilians, a world that advances human rights, a world where leaders live up to the values that they have promised to uphold,” he said.
In his nightly address, Zelensky said that five Russian missiles flew into Kyiv “immediately after the end” of talks in the capital with Guterres.
“This says a lot about Russia’s true attitude toward global institutions, about the efforts of the Russian leadership to humiliate the U.N. and everything that the organization represents,” Zelensky said. “It requires a strong response.”
Two days prior, Guterres met with Putin in Moscow to reiterate the U.N. position on the situation in Ukraine. The aim of both visits was to discuss immediate steps to stop the fighting and ensure the safety of all, U.N. spokesperson Eri Kaneko said.
Putin agreed “in principle” after the Tuesday meeting to allow U.N. and International Committee of the Red Cross involvement in the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in the besieged city of Mariupol. After meeting with Zelensky, Guterres said there are “intense discussions to move forward on this proposal to make it a reality.”
When pressed by a reporter for more information about the negotiations with Putin on Mariupol, Guterres responded sternly, “What do you want? Do you want the people to be rescued, or do you want me to say something that will be an obstacle to that rescue? At the present moment, I can only tell you we are doing everything we can to make it happen … I am not going to enter into any comment that will undermine that possibility — because my first and only priority is the people that suffer.”
In Bucha, the story of one man’s body left on a Russian killing field
On his trip around Ukrainian towns, Guterres visited an Orthodox church in Bucha, where photos showing mass graves and dead bodies lying on the side of the road after Russian forces left the town first sparked calls for a war-crimes probe. He said the visit made him “feel how important it is [to have] a thorough investigation and accountability.”
“I am glad that International Criminal Court is seized of the situation and that the prosecutor’s office was already here,” he said. “I appeal to the Russian Federation to accept to cooperate with the International Criminal Court. But when we talk about war crimes, we cannot forget that the worst of crimes is war itself.”
On Wednesday evening outside the U.N. headquarters in New York, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan said it was time for action. “International law can’t be a passive spectator. It can’t be sedentary. It needs to move with alacrity and to protect and to insist on accountability.”
Khan opened an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity March 2.