WHO assembly slams Russian attacks on Ukraine health facilities

The original proposal condemns Russia's actions but stops short of immediately suspending its voting rights at the UN health agency. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP, REUTERS) - A Russian resolution that expresses concerns about a “health emergency” in Ukraine but makes no reference to its own actions in the country was rejected by a World Health Organisation (WHO) assembly on Thursday (May 26).

The resolution, carried by 88 votes to 12, did not impose any sanctions on Russia but underlined Moscow’s isolation on the international stage in yet another global forum.

The resolution “condemns in the strongest terms” Russia’s “military aggression against Ukraine, including attacks on healthcare facilities”.

It urged Russia to “immediately cease any attacks on hospitals” and other healthcare sites.

Ukrainian ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko said the Feb 24 full-scale Russian invasion had triggered a huge health and humanitarian crisis in and outside the country.

The assembly “must be crystal-clear about where responsibility for this health crisis lies: it lies with the Russian Federation”,” she said.

The resolution was brought by Ukraine and co-sponsored by countries including the United States, Britain, Japan, Turkey and the European Union except Hungary.

Of the 194 WHO member states, 183 had the right to vote. Eighty-eight voted in favour and 12 against, with 53 abstentions and 30 countries absent.

The resolution said the war was seriously impeding access to healthcare in Ukraine and having wider health implications across the region.

It also urged Russia to respect and protect all medical and humanitarian personnel as well as the sick and wounded, in line with international law.

The resolution also called for safe, rapid and unhindered access to people in need of help, and the free flow of essential medicines and equipment.

256 attacks on health

The WHO has verified 256 separate attacks on healthcare in Ukraine since the Russian invasion. The WHO said 75 people have died and 59 have been injured.

Some 212 attacks involved heavy weapons.

The WHO does not go into further detail to protect the anonymity of victims and contributors.

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said he hoped other bodies would use the verified information and “take the necessary action for any criminal investigations that are required”.

Since the invasion, Ukraine and its allies have tried to maximise Russia’s diplomatic isolation, particularly within the United Nations.

The World Health Assembly is the annual gathering of the WHO’s member states and serves as the UN health agency’s decision-making body.

Russian deputy ambassador Alexander Alimov rejected “all of the allegations” made by Filipenko, saying the resolution was “clearly anti-Russian”.

Russia earlier asked WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “to visit in person in order to learn about Russia’s efforts to resolve the healthcare and humanitarian crisis”.


In what Western nations branded a cynical manoeuvre, Russia and Syria brought a counter-resolution strongly condemning attacks on civilians and health infrastructure, which copied large chunks of the Ukrainian resolution – while removing all reference to Russia.

“The one thing they haven’t taken is responsibility for the health emergency they alone are causing,” said US ambassador Sheba Crocker.

“Russia is asking you to look away from the gruesome reality.” British ambassador Simon Manley tweeted: “What a joke. This is based on some twisted alternative reality in which Putin’s forces haven’t been bombing hundreds of Ukrainian health facilities and killing thousands of civilians.”

Poland’s ambassador Zbigniew Czech said: “Let’s be honest: what we are witnessing in Ukraine is genocide.” Crocker added: “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.”

China’s diplomat said: “The integrity and sovereignty of all countries, including Ukraine, must be respected... It is in no-one’s interests to continue hostilities.”

WHO chief Tedros has repeatedly called on Russia to stop the war.

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