World

In a diplomatic quirk, Russia chairs a UN meeting decrying its strike on a Ukraine kids' hospital

UNITED NATIONS — (AP) — U.N. Security Council members confronted Russia on Tuesday 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 Moscow's own ambassador.

Russia denies responsibility for the strike at the hospital, where at least two staffers were killed.

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.

U.S. 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 characterized the slew of criticism as "verbal gymnastics" from countries trying to protect Ukraine's government. He reiterated Moscow's denials of responsibility for the hospital attack, insisting it was hit by a Ukrainian air defense 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 of Kyiv. Officials said at least 42 people were killed. 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 Dr. 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 over 600 young patients had been moved to bomb shelters, except those in surgery, Zhovnir said. He said over 300 people were injured, including eight children, and two adults died, one of them a young doctor.

Acting U.N. 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 U.N. World Health Organization has verified 1,878 attacks affecting health care facilities, personnel, transport, supplies and patients, she said.

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

British 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. But some nations with closer ties to Moscow continued to send a more muted message.

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

Russia insists that it doesn’t attack civilian targets in Ukraine despite abundant evidence to the contrary, including in AP's reporting.

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

At the U.N. 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 defenseless group in any society: children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses,” Kyslytsya said.

Kyslytsya, whose country isn’t on the 15-member council, blasted 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 drily replied, “I am compelled to thank Ukraine for their statement.”

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Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer and Jade Lozada at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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