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Killing of Ukrainian civilians likely to be war crime, says Coveney

Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, centre right, meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, centre, in Kyiv (handout/PA)
Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, centre right, meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, centre, in Kyiv (handout/PA)

The killing of Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces is likely to be a war crime, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney was speaking during a visit to Kyiv on Thursday.

He was visiting areas in the Ukrainian capital directly affected by the Russian invasion, and meeting Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba and defence minister Oleksii Reznikov.

Mr Coveney said the visit took around ten days to arrange.

Speaking during a press conference with Mr Kuleba, Mr Coveney said it was a privilege to be with him and said he brought a strong message of solidarity from the Irish Government and people.

Mr Coveney also said Ireland is pushing for a “maximalist” package of sanctions against Russia.

He told the press conference he wanted to bring the “madness” of the war to an end.

“I also bring condolences. We don’t know yet how many citizens have lost their lives due to this Russian aggression but we know it is many, and the brutality and violence, not only against soldiers, but against Ukrainian civilians is something that is likely to be determined as war crimes in the future.

“I am also conscious at this time that Ukraine does not want sympathy, it needs action and strong practical support in defending yourselves, and even though Ireland is militarily neutral, let me be clear we are not neutral on this war and conflict and the future of your country.

“Ireland has contributed 20 million euro (£16.5 million) to Ukraine and committed 33 million euro (£27.3 million) in military assistance and we are strongly advocating for a maximalist approach in sanctions against Russia as a deterrent in this war, and we believe we need to move beyond what has been agreed, to include oil embargo in a sixth package of sanctions.

“We know Ukrainians dream of a different type of future, one that is based on democracy, stability and economic opportunity, and we believe those things can be achieved through full EU membership and Ireland will advocate that it happens as rapidly as possible.

“We believe that the most powerful countries in the world are accountable to international law and the atrocities against Ukraine citizens need to be part of a process to ensure full accountability.”

He is the first foreign minister on the UN Security Council to visit Kyiv since the war began.

His visit came as Mr Coveney announced three million euro (£2.5 million) in funding to the International Criminal Court, with one million euro to be dispersed immediately to the office of the prosecutor.

Mr Coveney’s counterpart, Mr Kuleba, praised his bravery in visiting Ukraine.

He said Ireland was among the first countries to extend its support to people fleeing the war.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Kuleba said he was grateful for Ireland’s support and 20 million euro in humanitarian support and assistance, as well as ambulances and medicines.

Mr Coveney also visited the ravaged town of Bucha, where suspected killings of civilians were uncovered.

He was given a tour of the city with Ukrainian special forces and the Garda Emergency Response Unit, and laid flowers at a memorial wall in Kyiv.

Mr Coveney said there has been “mass murder” of civilians in Ukrainian towns.

He said Bucha has been “completely devastated” and its “population ravaged” in recent weeks.

“It’s a bit like Sutton is to Dublin, or Carrigaline is to Cork, a large town on the outskirts of a big city, completely destroyed.

“If anybody tells me that that’s not a crime, or a crime against humanity, well I need to be convinced.

“We are certainly ensuring that there will be an international legal infrastructure that can fully investigate all of those crimes.”

A statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said: “His discussions with the Ukrainian government will focus on how Ireland can continue to provide political, security and humanitarian support to Ukraine, assist Ukraine in its application for EU candidate status, take forward further EU sanctions on Russia and hold Russia to account for its brutal and unjustified invasion.”

Ireland has provided 20 million euro in humanitarian aid to the country and Ukrainian refugees in neighbouring counties, and 33 million euro in non-lethal assistance for the Ukrainian military through the European Peace Facility.

The DFA statement added: “Ireland has been at the forefront of putting in place a robust EU sanctions regime and of supporting international mechanisms to hold Russia to account for grave violations of international humanitarian law, including referring the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court.”

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