“The simple truth is that, as we speak, children, women and men, the young and the old, are living in terror,” International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said at the opening of the Ukraine Accountability Conference in The Hague on Thursday, with about 40 nations in attendance.
Khan said an “overarching strategy” is needed to bring those guilty of conducting war crimes in Ukraine to justice.
Ukraine has granted the ICC jurisdiction over the crimes committed within the country, opening the door to the court’s investigations, since neither Ukraine nor Russia is an ICC member.
Ukrainian officials said Russian missiles struck the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia on Thursday, killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 100 others.
Police said three missiles hit an office building in the center of the city, located about 270 kilometers southwest of the capital, Kyiv. The strikes, coming from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea, damaged residential buildings in the area and engulfed 50 cars in a nearby parking lot.
“This is the act of Russian terror,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the ICC meeting in a video address.
The governor of the Vinnytsia region, Serhiy Borzov, said Ukrainian air defense systems shot down another four missiles over the area.
With a population of 370,000, Vinnytsia is one of Ukraine’s largest cities. Thousands of people from eastern Ukraine, where Russia has concentrated its offensive, have fled there since the start of the war in late February.
President Zelenskyy said the dead included a child.
“Every day Russia is destroying the civilian population, killing Ukrainian children, directing missiles at civilian objects where there is no military (target). What is it if not an open act of terrorism?” Zelenskyy wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.
Warfare continues to rage in eastern Ukraine, but the British Defense Ministry said Thursday that despite continued shelling, Russian forces have not made major territorial gains in recent days.
“The aging vehicles, weapons and Soviet-era tactics used by Russian forces do not lend themselves to quickly regaining or building momentum unless used in overwhelming mass — which Russia is currently unable to bring to bear,” the British ministry said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday there is “broad agreement” on a deal between Russia and Ukraine, with Turkey and the United Nations, to export millions of tons of Ukrainian grain stuck in silos since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.
“Today is an important and substantive step,” Guterres told reporters of developments at talks in Istanbul among the four parties. “A step on the way to a comprehensive agreement.”
The U.N. chief broke his public silence on the negotiations, pointing to a statement from Turkey’s defense minister, who said there is agreement on major points, including the creation of a coordination center with Russia, Ukraine and the U.N.; agreement on controls for checking grain at ports; and ensuring the safety of cargo ships carrying the grain out of Odesa.
“Of course, this was a first meeting,” Guterres noted. “The progress was extremely encouraging. Now, the delegations are coming back to their capitals, and we hope the next steps will allow us to come to a formal agreement.”
While Guterres would not speculate about when the final agreement would be ready, he said he hoped the parties would reconvene next week and have a final agreement. Whenever it is, he said, he would be ready to go to Istanbul to sign it.
A U.N. official with knowledge of the talks said there was an important meeting of the Russians and the Ukrainians where they were able to make a lot of progress on sticking points.
More than 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain are being stored in silos at the Black Sea port of Odesa, and dozens of ships have been stranded because of Russia’s blockade. Turkey said it has 20 merchant ships waiting in the region that could be quickly loaded and dispatched to world markets.
The grain deal has been in the works for months, with U.N. officials raising the alarm nearly immediately after the war started about the consequences for global food security if Ukraine, which is one of the world’s top grain exporters, is unable to get its harvests out.
“Truly, failure to open those ports in Odesa region will be a declaration of war on global food security,” World Food Program chief David Beasley warned at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on May 19. “And it will result in famine and destabilization and mass migration around the world.”
WFP says 276 million people worldwide were facing acute hunger at the start of this year. They project that number will rise by 47 million people if the conflict in Ukraine continues, with the steepest increases in sub-Saharan Africa.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.