By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) - The World Health Assembly called on Russia to immediately cease its attacks on hospitals and other healthcare facilities in Ukraine, urging it to respect and protect medical staff and humanitarian personnel engaged exclusively in medical duties.
More than 50 nations, including the US, EU countries, and Japan, sponsored a resolution by Ukraine that "urges the Russian Federation to immediately cease any attacks on hospitals and other healthcare facilities."
The vote in favor of the Ukraine resolution was 88 in favor with 12 against. Those opposing the motion include China and North Korea, while 53 countries abstained, mostly from Africa and western Asia.
Thirty countries were absent from the voting.
The resolution also urges Russia "to fully respect and protect all medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their means of transport and equipment."
The WHA meets once a year and is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, which said Wednesday that since Russia launched its war in Ukraine on Feb. 24, health facilities in the country have suffered 256 attacks, leading to 75 deaths.
Russia, Belarus, and Syria proposed another resolution supported by North Korea, which Ukraine's envoy to the UN in Geneva said was based on Russia's "own reality" and was "shamefully dishonest."
- Ukraine ambassador
Yevheniia Filipenko, Ukraine's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told delegates that "Russia's invasion" of her country has caused "a health and humanitarian crisis on a huge scale, with grave health impacts within and beyond Ukraine."
"We have witnessed attacks destroying health facilities, thousands of civilian deaths, deeply irresponsible attacks near nuclear facilities, and a huge disruption to health services across Ukraine," said Filipenko.
She underlined that the risks of infectious disease outbreaks have skyrocketed during the conflict in the middle of a global pandemic.
"Millions of tons of grain sit in Ukrainian grain silos and ports, unable to be exported. A global food crisis that existed before the invasion has been made far worse and threatens millions more with starvation."
Filipenko said the blockade would affect the world's poorest and most vulnerable the hardest, as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had alluded to in his opening speech of the WHA on Sunday.
- Resolution 'politicized,' says Russia
Alexander Alimov, Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said during the debate prior to the resolution's passage that Russia rejected the allegations made by the Ukrainian envoy against his country.
"The draft resolution prepared by Ukraine and a number of states is not at all acceptable to us. It is politicized. It is one-sided and biased in its assessment of the situation," he said.
Alimov also argued that the draft resolution ignores eight years of aggression by Kyiv on the residents of Luhansk and Donetsk, two regions in the Donbas.
- Turkiye calls for protection of civilians
Sadik Arslan, Turkiye's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, underlined that Ankara values the monitoring activities undertaken by the WHO, adding that a "regrettable humanitarian crisis" was taking place in Ukraine.
"We are deeply concerned about the disruption of health services in the country. We highlight the importance of the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure."
Bathsheba Crocker, the US envoy said: "According to the WHO, nearly 170,000 people in Mariupol alone are without access to safe water and at risk of a major outbreak."
"There is no reason for any of this. It is wanton destruction of health care, services, and life for purely political aims, justified on the basis of lies and disinformation," she added.
A recent report submitted to the WHO by its Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said that the war in Ukraine has had devastating effects on the country.
"As of 18 May 2022, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported 7964 civilian casualties, comprising 3,778 killed and 4,186 injured, though the actual toll is certainly much higher."
Tedros said that the current number of internally displaced persons fleeing the ongoing hostilities is estimated at 8 million and a further 6.3 million people have crossed into neighboring countries of Ukraine.