Zelensky compares Ukraine war to Nazi bombing of Guernica

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday compared Russia's devastating assault on his country to the Nazis' 1937 bombing of the northern Spanish town of Guernica in an address to Spain's parliament.

Zelensky compares Ukraine war to Nazi bombing of Guernica
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez delivers a speech as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a screen to address the lower house by videoconference, at the Spanish Parliament in Madrid on April 5, 2022. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

“It’s April 2022 but it seems like April 1937 when the whole world heard about one of your cities, Guernica,” he told lawmakers, referencing the carpet-bombing of the town by aircraft from Hitler’s “Condor Legion” during Spain’s 1936-1939 civil war in support of Francisco Franco’s nationalist forces.

Hundreds of people were killed, many of whom were at a weekly market in the town centre, in an atrocity that shocked the world and was immortalised in Picasso’s haunting anti-war painting.

Historians give an estimated death toll of between 150 and 300 people, while the Basque authorities give a much higher figure of 1,654.

General view of the Basque town of Guernica after it was bombed in 1937 by Adolf Hitler’s Condor Legion pilots. (Photo by HO / AFP)

Zelensky’s 10-minute videolink speech came after he addressed the UN Security Council for the first time, demanding it expel Russia over its brutal invasion and that Moscow be held accountable for its atrocities against civilians.

“We never thought that we would once again see shocking images of bombings and massacres of innocent people on European soil,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said in brief remarks after Zelensky’s speech.

People in awe of Pablo Picasso’s giant Guernica painting at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

The Ukrainian leader’s latest addresses followed a wave of global outrage over the harrowing discoveries of civilian victims in Bucha and other towns near Kyiv after Russian troops pulled back.

So far, Ukrainian officials say over 400 civilian bodies have been recovered from the wider Kyiv region, many of which were buried in mass graves.

The Kremlin has denied any civilian killings and claimed that the images are fakes produced by Ukraine forces, or that the deaths occurred after Russian soldiers pulled out of the areas.

Europe’s worst conflict in decades has killed as many as 20,000 people, according to Ukrainian estimates.

Nearly 4.25 million Ukrainians have fled the country during Russia’s invasion, while a further 7.1 million are thought be internally displaced within Ukraine, the UN said Tuesday.

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Russia expels dozens of Spanish and other European diplomats

Moscow on Wednesday kicked out 27 diplomats from Spain, as well as dozens more from France and Italy in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats from European countries as part of a joint action against Russia's campaign in Ukraine.

Russia expels dozens of Spanish and other European diplomats

Spain has lashed out at Russia for expelling 27 Spanish diplomats in what appeared to be a tit-for-tat response over a similar move by Madrid against Russian diplomats over the Ukraine conflict.

The employees of the Spanish embassy in Moscow and the Spanish Consulate General in Saint Petersburg “have been declared persona non grata” and will have seven days to leave Russia.

 “Russian authorities justify this decision on grounds of reciprocity for the expulsion of 27 Russian embassy officials in April. But that expulsion was based on justified security reasons, which are not present in this case,” a foreign ministry statement said.

The Spanish decision was taken in early April just days after dozens of bodies in civilian clothing were found on the streets of Bucha just outside Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian troops, raising allegations of Russian war crimes.

At the time, the foreign ministry said it would expel the Russian diplomats on grounds they were “a threat to (Spain’s) interests and security”.

The Russian ambassador was not among those asked to leave.

The ministry told Spanish ambassador Marcos Gómez Martínez that the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Madrid “would have a negative impact on Russian-Spanish relations”.

Spain’s decision was part of a coordinated move across Europe that saw more than 200 Russian envoys sent home in 48 hours on grounds of alleged spying or “national security reasons” as outrage grew over the atrocities in Ukraine.

More European diplomats expelled

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it was expelling 34 “employees of French diplomatic missions” in Russia and gave them two weeks to leave the country.

Moscow made the announcement after summoning France’s ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and telling him that the expulsion of 41 employees of Russian diplomatic missions was a “provocative and unfounded decision”, the statement said.

While there was no official statement, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed to Russian news agencies that 24 Italian diplomats had also been expelled.

The foreign ministry in Paris said France “strongly condemns” the expulsion of its diplomats by Russia, adding that this step from Moscow had “no legitimate basis”.

It said the work of French diplomats in Russia “takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” — whereas Paris expelled Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.

‘Hostile act’

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi condemned the expulsions as a “hostile act” but said diplomatic channels must remain open “because it’s through those channels that, if possible, peace (in Ukraine) will be achieved”.

Separately, municipal lawmakers in Moscow on Wednesday backed a decision to name a previously unnamed area in front of the US embassy in Moscow “Donbas Defenders Square”.

The name refers to a majority Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine that Russia says it is liberating as part of its military campaign.

In February 2018, a street outside the Russian embassy in Washington was named after Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician who was shot dead outside the Kremlin in 2015.

President Vladimir Putin in late February sent troops into Ukraine, saying the campaign aimed to stop the “genocide” of Russian speakers in the pro-Western country.

In response Moscow has faced a barrage of international sanctions and growing isolation from the global community as relations with the West deteriorate to Cold War levels.