UN denies banning staff from using ‘war’ and ‘invasion’ over Ukraine

The United Nations denied claims that it has banned staff from using the words “war” or “invasion” to describe the conflict in Ukraine.

According to a leaked email, UN employees were reportedly told to use “conflict” or “military offensive” instead.

Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba shared the rumours on social media and said the UN’s reputation was “at stake”.

Senior spokespeople at the UN have denied the media reports and said the claims were “fake”.

“No such official communication has gone out to global staff to refrain from using certain words,” said Melissa Fleming, who leads global communications for the UN.

Fleming also referred to an earlier tweet from UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, which used the words “war” and “invasion”.

“Nearly two weeks on, it is painfully clear that those suffering the most after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are civilians — killed, wounded, displaced,” DiCarlo said.

“This war is senseless. We are ready to support all good-faith efforts at negotiation to end the bloodshed.”

Russia has always referred to the war in Ukraine as a “military operation”, and the country’s media regulator Roskomnadzor has cracked down on the words that news outlets can use.

Russian citizens now also face up to 15 years in prison if they intentionally spread claims about Russia’s military that are deemed to be “fake”.

Russia holds one of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council, and some countries have expressed concerns about its role within the international body.

The Irish Times had reported that UN staff have also been banned from “adding the Ukrainian flag to social media profiles or websites”.

UN secretary-general spokesperson: ‘Mistaken impression’

An email seen by Euronews seems to advise staff and issue guidance on “communicating about Ukraine”.

“International civil servants have a responsibility to be impartial. It is particularly important during a crisis such as this one,” the email reads.

According to the Irish Times, a UN official said that the reported email “can not be considered official policy to staff” but conceded that it might be genuine. Euronews is working to verify the reports.

Ukraine’s foreign affairs minister had said it was “hard to believe” that the UN had also censored discussion over Russia’s invasion.

“I urge the UN to swiftly refute such reports if they are false,” Kuleba tweeted.

The UN spokesperson denied the reports on social media, although some of the previous tweets have since been deleted.

“It is simply not the case that staff have been instructed not to use words like ‘war’ and ‘invasion’ to describe the situation,” Fleming said.

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the Secretary-General, added that the UN had issued no instruction to staff.

“There is a mistaken impression that UN staff were told to avoid using certain words to describe the situation in Ukraine,” Dujarric said in a statement.

“At the same time, I would remind you that the staff of the United Nations are international civil servants and uphold the responsibilities that that position entails,” he added.

“Accordingly, staff are asked to frame any communications on Ukraine as well as other political matters in a manner that is consistent with the position of the organization and the statements of the secretary-general.”

“This applies not only to the ongoing situation in Ukraine but other situations around the world.”