US Secretary of State Antony Blinken opened his remarks at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday recounting his recent trip to Yahidne – a Ukrainian town roughly two hours north of Kyiv that had been occupied by Russian soldiers.
“I begin here because – from the comfortable distance of this chamber – it’s really easy to lose sight of what it’s like for the Ukrainian victims of Russia’s aggression,” Blinken told his fellow diplomats seated in the room, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“Russia’s forces … went door to door, rounding up residents at gunpoint, and marching them to the local elementary school,” where they forced more than 300 villagers – “mostly women, children, and elderly people” – into “just a few small rooms with no windows, no circulation, no running water” in the basement.
The Russian soldiers kept them imprisoned there for nearly a month, “packed together so tightly that they could barely breathe,” denying them medical care, and allowing them to remove their dead only once a day, Blinken described.
“Children, parents, husbands, and wives were forced to spend hours next to the corpses of their loved ones,” he continued.
“The oldest victim was 93 years old,” he said. “The youngest: 6 weeks old.”
The top US diplomat’s effort to highlight the horrific realities of the war in Ukraine come as the Biden administration seeks to maintain support for Kyiv amid growing opposition in Congress and as the international community faces the prospect of war with little end in sight.
On Wednesday, Blinken will join fellow national security officials including Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, CIA Director Bill Burns, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to brief the Senate on Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will be in the US capital on Thursday – following on the heels of his time at the UN – for a high-stakes visit to try to shore up support and convince lawmakers not to cut aid.
Last month, the Biden administration asked Congress to approve an additional $24 billion in emergency spending for Ukraine and other international needs. Zelensky will meet with all senators on Thursday morning, and in an interview with CNN, Zelensky said he plans to meet with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has not signaled whether he would endorse the additional Ukraine funding amid open opposition from some in his party.
On Wednesday, Blinken downplayed the potential funding fight, telling ABC News in an interview that “support remains strong.”
“And I think President Zelenskyy has an opportunity now in Washington to remind people of what the stakes are. This is not just the right thing to do because of the horrific abuses that Russia is committing in Ukraine; it’s the necessary thing to do,” he said.
In his remarks at the UN Security Council, Blinken also sought to re-emphasize that “in this war, there is an aggressor and there is a victim,” accusing Moscow of violating the UN charter, committing war crimes, engaging “in reckless nuclear saber-rattling,” weaponizing hunger, attacking Ukrainian civilians with the help of Iran, and potentially seeking weapons from North Korea.
“It’s hard to imagine a country demonstrating more contempt for the United Nations and all that it stands for – this from a country with a permanent seat on this council,” he said.
Zelensky, in his remarks, criticized the UN body – in which Russia has veto power – for failing to do enough to stop the war.
“Ukrainian soldiers now are doing at the expense of their blood what the UN Security Council should do by its voting. They’re stopping aggression and upholding the principles of the UN Charter,” he said.