Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks during a news conference after meeting with his counterparts Russian Sergei Lavrov and Turkish Mevlut Cavusoglu, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Antalya, Turkey March 10, 2022.
Murad Sezer | Reuters
Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hit back at claims made Thursday by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, saying the leadership in Moscow “live in their own reality.”
Kuleba’s comments come after Moscow’s foreign minister earlier denied that Russian forces had targeted civilians by bombing a children’s hospital and maternity ward on Wednesday, leading to the deaths of three people including a child, and wounding many others.
When asked by CNBC’s Hadley Gamble how Russia could justify such an act, Lavrov said that it was “not the first time we’ve seen shouting in response to so-called atrocities,” repeating a Russian line that the hospital had already been captured by Ukrainian “ultra radicals.”
The Russian foreign minister presented no evidence for this claim, nor did he elaborate on how he knew supposed details about the occupants of a hospital within a city that is being held by Ukrainian forces. Its Russian besiegers are attacking it from a distance with artillery.
Lavrov also said that pregnant women had been taken away from the hospital days ago, despite photographic evidence to the contrary showing pregnant women being carried from the hospital after the missile strike.
Kuleba said Moscow appeared to believe its own claims about the hospital.
“Unfortunately, I can confirm that the Russian leadership, including Minister Lavrov, live in their own reality. In our talks, behind closed doors and in the absence of the media, he told me looking in my eyes that the pictures of pregnant women being taken from under the rubble of the maternity house are fake, that they hit the maternity house as a military target because the Russian military was absolutely sure that it was under the control of Ukrainian army,” he told CNBC.
Talks between Russia and Ukraine’s foreign ministers in Turkey earlier on Thursday ended in failure, with no progress made on establishing a cease-fire or safe passage for civilians trying to flee the besieged city of Mariupol. The discussions, between Lavrov and Kuleba, lasted just 1½ hours.
Following the talks, Kuleba told a news conference that the talks had been “both easy and difficult.”
“Easy because Minister Lavrov basically followed his traditional narratives about Ukraine, but difficult because I did my best to find a diplomatic solution to the humanitarian tragedy unfolding on the battleground and in the besieged cities,” he said.
No progress had been made on Ukraine’s proposal for a 24-hour cease-fire, Kuleba said, nor on the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to and from Mariupol, both for citizens to flee the city, and for humanitarian aid to enter it.
Kuleba told CNBC he had spent a good deal of the talks trying to arrange a humanitarian corridor for residents of Mariupol and that he felt “very bad” that he was not able to achieve this agreement with Lavrov, who he said had told him he was not in a position to agree on this.
Expressing surprise that a foreign minister would not have the power to authorize a humanitarian corridor, Kuleba said Lavrov seemed to “not have a sufficient amount of authority to make any deals today.”
Two weeks into Russia’s invasion and Ukraine’s troops and army of volunteer fighters have been far more successful at resisting Russia’s advance than many anticipated.
For all Ukraine’s bravery in fighting back, there has been a high human price to pay: Thousands of Ukrainians are believed to have been killed, including soldiers and several hundred civilians, and more than 2 million people have fled their homes as cities have been heavily attacked and towns and villages destroyed.
Kuleba said that on the eve of the war, defense analysts had predicted that Ukraine’s forces would only be able to withstand Russia’s military for a maximum of two days, but said, “we have two weeks of war behind us and Russia did not achieve any strategic objective in Ukraine.”
“It comes at a high price … but we fight against them because it’s the people’s war. … And this is why I have no doubts that in the end we shall prevail.”