Sian MacLeod

Sian MacLeod

UK Ambassador to Serbia

Part of UK in Russia UK in Serbia UK in Ukraine

19th April 2022 Belgrade, Serbia

This is What Human Tragedy Looks Like

We Stand With Ukraine

This joint article by Ambassadors Rafal Perl (Poland), Giles Norman (Canada) and Sian MacLeod (UK) first appeared in Serbian in ‘Nedeljnik’ on 14 April 2022.

This week Protestant and Catholic churches around the world mark the darkest, most solemn days in the Christian year followed by celebration of Easter and hope for the future.  Next week, Orthodox churches follow that same path from suffering to joy.

But in Ukraine the suffering continues to deepen. Day by day we read about and see a humanitarian catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. This is not a natural disaster. It is a catastrophe born of disastrous political misjudgment, naked aggression and man’s inhumanity to man.

We cannot put exact numbers on the scale of the suffering. But we know that some 10 million people in Ukraine have been displaced from their homes. Over 4 million of these fleeing the violence and destruction as refugees beyond the borders of their homeland. An estimated 12 million people are unable to leave areas affected by fighting. According to latest figures from UNICEF around 5 million children have been displaced, two thirds of Ukraine’s total number.

The full scale of civilian death and injury will not be clear for some time. The Mayor of Mariupol estimates that 5,000 people may have been killed in his city alone (and the estimated number continues to rise steeply). The civilian casualties of war include not only those killed by bullets, shells or collapsing buildings, but also from lack of access to food, water, healthcare and hygiene.

There have also been thousands of military casualties.  The Kremlin spokesman has now admitted ‘significant losses’ of Russian troops: external estimates range from 7-18,000.

The wanton destruction of towns and cities has left densely populated areas looking like eerie moonscapes. Hospitals, schools, places of worship, work and entertainment, shops and homes have been turned to rubble.

Reports of the forced deportation to Russia of civilians from occupied towns, like the deprivation of access to essential food supplies, are a terrible echo of the Stalinist era that destroyed so many lives across the USSR including Russia.  The people of Ukraine have bitter memories of the Holodomor, the man-made famine engineered by the Soviet Communist Party leadership in the 1930s, that caused millions of deaths by starvation.

Every death, every life uprooted, every home destroyed tells a story of suffering and loss.  The scale of that suffering and destruction recalls the horror of past conflict in Europe including two World Wars and the conflicts of the 1990s in the Western Balkans.

Each time, the world said ‘never again’. New generations struggled to understand how such tragedies could have occurred. Even now we are still struggling to believe what is happening now in Ukraine in 2022.

International humanitarian law was developed in the aftermath of the Second World War.  The architects of mass atrocities faced trial at Nuremberg and those who perpetrated them in tribunals and courts across Europe and beyond.

Every single person who serves in the armed forces of a law based state instructed on these laws and customs of war. Those that violate them willfully or recklessly are committing war crimes. Those responsible for widespread and systematic violation are committing crimes against humanity.

Under international law, war crimes include: deliberately attacking civilians, sexual violence, targeting and destruction of civilian property (including religious, educational and cultural buildings), unlawful deportation and removal of property.

Along with the heinous violent crimes there is evidence of systematic looting. Besides the pictures of murdered civilians and devastated cities, a photograph of burnt out washing machines on a retreating Russian transport vehicle may become one of the defining images of the conflict.

Is this what ‘liberation’ looks like? Is this what ‘denazification’ looks like? Is this what ‘demilitarisation’ looks like? No. This is what war crimes look like.

No wonder the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson is showing the pressure and  rambling on about who invented borsch. There are better ways to have that argument than sending a generation of young Russians to their deaths in an illegal war.

We cannot understand how Russian diplomats continue to  ‘justify’ atrocities or repeat false narratives. Every diplomat wants to serve their country and their people with professionalism and loyalty. But, rather than blind loyalty, we also need to serve the cause of integrity and conscience.

The Russian Federation illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 by military means. The Russian Federation stirred up conflict in the Donbas in 2014 and has fuelled it ever since. The Russian Federation launched a full scale invasion and attacks on cities across Ukraine in 2022.

The Russian regime lied to its people about its unprovoked military assault – surreally  criminalising the use of the words ‘war’, ‘attack’ and ‘invasion’ to describe it. When it found that the people of Ukraine did not want to be forcibly ‘liberated’ from a democratically elected Government nor be subjugated to Vladimir Putin’s imagined vision of a ‘Russkiy Mir’ where their country does not exist, it unleashed a brutal campaign of terror.

Moscow is trying to sow doubt and confusion to cover up indefensible actions like the murder of civilians by retreating troops and the shelling of civilians at Kramatorsk railway station. Trying to downplay the gravity of the situation, they accuse other governments that condemn their actions as “not very constructive” or, bizarrely, “ungentlemanly”.

(Don’t be fooled by claims that Moscow has “never heard a word” from our countries on 8 years of conflict in the Donbas. We have publicly condemned this Kremlin-fuelled conflict week after week since the 2014 illegal Crimea annexation.)

Ukraine needs massive humanitarian help. Ukraine needs medical supplies and blood. Ukraine needs food and temporary homes for millions of refugees. Ukraine needs help to school children forced from their homes. Ukraine needs the means to defend its people, its sovereignty and its independence.

In coming months and years, Ukraine will need massive help to rebuild towns, cities and infrastructure. But now, what Ukraine needs most of all, is for the Russian Army to go home so that the people of both countries can celebrate Easter in peace.

About Sian MacLeod

Sian Macleod was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia in September 2019. Prior to this, Sian was Ambassador and Head of the UK Delegation to the Organization…

Sian Macleod was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia in September 2019. Prior to this, Sian was Ambassador and Head of the UK Delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Sian joined the FCO in 1986. Her first posting was to Moscow. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, she served briefly in the Embassy in Vilnius. Since then she has been posted to The Hague, returned to Moscow 2004-7, where she became Minister (Deputy Head of Mission). Between overseas postings she has worked in the FCO and the Cabinet Office.

Sian was Ambassador in Prague from 2009 to 2013 and then Director of the British Council Triennial Review and FCO Additional Director for the Eastern European & Central Asian Directorate.

Sian is married to Richard Robinson and they have three children and enjoy music, cycling and cross-country skiing.

Before joining the FCO she studied music at the Winchester School of Art and the Royal Academy of Music.