NEW YORK — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday accused Russia of committing “genocide” by abducting thousands of children from Ukraine, calling during a fiery speech at the United Nations for the world not to tolerate the “evil” undergirding Moscow’s actions.
“When hatred is weaponized against one nation, it never stops there,” Mr. Zelenskyy told world leaders at the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering that opened in Manhattan on Tuesday.
World leaders “must act united to defeat the aggressor,” he said in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Evil cannot be trusted,” Mr. Zelenskyy added, before insinuating that Mr. Putin was most recently responsible for the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the wily leader of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries who died along with a group of top aides in a mysterious plane crash last month.
“Ask Prigozhin if one bets on Putin’s promises,” the Ukrainian president said.
Prior to his death, Mr. Prigozhin was reported to have made a deal with Mr. Putin to stay alive free of charges despite having led a brief Wagner Group mutiny against the Russian president in June.
The harsh and at times wandering commentary from Mr. Zelenskyy marked a dramatic high-point of the marathon of speeches from world leaders at the General Assembly on Tuesday afternoon.
The Ukrainian president spoke hours after President Biden appeared before the gathering, pleading with global leaders to align behind the U.S. and its allies in confronting Russia and warning that no country in the world will be safe if Russian forces are not driven from Ukrainian territory.
Mr. Zelenskyy pushed a similar message, while also steering clear of mentioning the status of Ukraine’s struggling summer counteroffensive against Russian defensive lines in Ukraine’s south and east.
The counteroffensive is likely to be at the center of discussions later this week, when Mr. Zelenskyy visits Washington. Kyiv has been under mounting pressure in recent months to ease doubts that billions of dollars in American and NATO military and economic aid are being spent wisely.
The U.S. has contributed about $70 billion to Ukraine’s effort to fight off the Russian invasion launched in February 2022. The financial support has been met with increasing resistance from some Republicans on Capitol Hill, particularly in the House. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, has balked at writing what he called “a blank check” to support Kyiv.
Mr. Zelenskyy, who made global headlines in recent days by purging several top officials from the Ukrainian defense ministry, focused his remarks Tuesday on Russian aggression.
Asserting that the Kremlin has weaponized everything from oil and gas to Ukrainian grain supplies to the global market, Mr. Zelenskyy pleaded with world leaders to give his embattled nation leverage over Russia in any potential negotiations toward ending the war.
“For the first time in modern history, we have a real chance to end the aggression on the terms of the nation which was attacked,” he said, touting his own peace plan that has struggled to gain major international buy-in since being introduced nearly a year ago.
Mr. Zelenskyy is slated to discuss the plan at a special session of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. “This is a real chance for every nation to ensure that aggression against your state … will end not because your land will be divided and you will be forced to submit to military or political pressure, but because your territory and sovereignty will be fully restored.”
Moscow has shown no appetite for the Ukrainian plan, which calls for the removal of all Russian forces from Ukraine and the return of all Ukrainian territory to Kyiv, including the Crimean Peninsula that Russia unilaterally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Mr. Putin was not in the audience for Mr. Zelenskyy’s speech on Tuesday. The Russian president is skipping this year’s U.N. gathering amid speculation he could be arrested under a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.
The warrant accused the Russian president of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. Moscow has dismissed the claim that thousands of Ukrainian children have been forcibly transferred from their homeland to areas under Russian control.
Mr. Zelenskyy, addressing the gathering in English, sought to highlight the issue.
“We know the names of tens of thousands of children and have evidence of hundreds of thousands of others kidnapped by Russia in the occupied territories of Ukraine and later deported,” he said.
“We are trying to get [the] children back home. But time, time goes by,” he said. “What will happen with them?”
“Those children in Russia are taught to hate Ukraine, and all ties with their families are broken,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “This is clearly a genocide.”