© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII Photo
The principal of a school in Chernihiv, Ukraine, surveys the damage caused during an aerial bombardment.
5 May 2022
Briefing the Security Council on his shuttle diplomacy last week in Russia and Ukraine, Secretary-General António Guterres declared that he “did not mince words” during meetings with Presidents Putin and Zelenskyy, on the need to end the brutal conflict.
“It must end for the sake of the people of Ukraine, Russia, and the entire world…the cycle of death, destruction, dislocation and disruption must stop.”
The UN chief said he had gone into an active war zone in Ukraine, after first travelling to Moscow, without much prospect of any ceasefire – as the east of the country continues to face “a full-scale ongoing attack”.
‘Dire plight’ of civilians
Prior to the visit, Ukraine issued an appeal to the UN and to him personally over the “dire plight of civilians” in the devastated city of Mariupol and specifically the Azovstal steel plant.
“In my meeting with President Putin, I therefore stressed the imperative of enabling humanitarian access and evacuations from besieged areas, including first and foremost, Mariupol,” said Mr. Guterres, appealing strongly for a safe and effective humanitarian corridor for civilians to reach safety from the vast Azovstal plant, where hundreds have been living underground for weeks.
A short time later, he received confirmation of “an agreement in principle”, from the Russian premier.
“We must continue to do all we can to get people out of these hellscapes,” said the UN chief.
Glimmer of hope
Reporting on “some measure of success”, Mr. Guterres outlined the complex humanitarian operation underway, led by the UN and Red Cross (ICRC).
“It began on 29 April and has required enormous coordination and advocacy with the Russian Federation and Ukrainian authorities,” he elaborated. “So far, two safe passage convoys have been successfully completed”.
The first stage at the weekend, saw 101 civilians safely evacuated to safety to the north of Mariupol, while the second phase on Wednesday night, led to “more than 320” from the region finding a safe haven.
While a third operation is underway, Mr. Guterres would not provide any details until it is completed, “to avoid undermining possible success”.
“It is good to know that even in these times of hyper-communications, silent diplomacy is still possible and is sometimes the only effective way to produce results,” he stated.
The UN will continue to scale up humanitarian operations, save lives and reduce suffering, assured the UN chief, adding that his meetings with both leaders also focused on worldwide food security.
“A meaningful solution to global food insecurity requires reintegrating Ukraine’s agricultural production and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus into world markets, despite the war,” he underscored.
The Ukraine war is also setting in motion “a crisis that is also devastating global energy markets, disrupting financial systems and exacerbating extreme vulnerabilities for the developing world,” said Mr. Guterres.
“The war…is senseless in its scope, ruthless in its dimensions and limitless in its potential for global harm. It is high time to unite and end this war,” the Secretary-General concluded.
© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII Photo
Children look at artwork in a classroom strewn with broken glass and other debris in Chernihiv, Ukraine.
More than 13 million on the run: Griffiths
The head of the UN humanitarian office (OCHA), Martin Griffiths, painted a grim picture of civilian infrastructure destroyed and over 13 million Ukrainians forced to flee their homes, uprooting lives and ripping apart families.
He noted that the elderly and others who could not run, have been unable to seek shelter from bombs, get out to gather supplies or receive information on evacuations.
And since the war began, threat of gender-based violence has risen with mounting allegations of sexual violence against women, girls, men and boys.
“Roads are heavily contaminated with explosive ordnance, putting civilians at risk and stopping humanitarian convoys from reaching them,” added Mr. Griffiths, who also serves as Emergency Relief Coordinator.
To meet growing needs, the UN and over 217 humanitarian partners have scaled up at “record speed,” to reach more than 4.1 million people with some form of assistance across the country’s 24 oblasts, or regions.
The humanitarian response aims to deliver assistance and protection services to displaced people; preposition supplies and increase preparedness where the war is expected to shift next; and engage with the conflict parties to push for aid in active conflict areas or negotiate safe passage for civilians to leave.
“To date, we have been able to stage five inter-agency aid convoys to some of the hardest-hit areas,” said the Relief Coordinator, describing them as “a lifeline to civilians encircled by fighting.”
He outlined the successful corridors established for civilians in the Mariupol area in recent days: “We are finally seeing the fruits of our labour over these past many weeks,” he said. “There is much more we can do if we work together”.
In closing, Mr. Griffiths assured that OCHA would keep pushing for more civilians to be able to freely leave Mariupol, while also exploring options to reach other parts of Ukraine where civilians are deeply impacted by fighting.
Noting that “the reverberations of this war are being felt worldwide”, he upheld the UN’s firm commitment to leave “no stone unturned” in finding measures to save lives.
“The world expects this of us. The people of Ukraine deserve this,” he said.
‘Situation keeps deteriorating’
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet informed the ambassadors of reports of international humanitarian and human rights law violations and the need for accountability.
Since 2014, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) has been monitoring the situation in Ukraine. And since Russia’s invasion in February, it has not paused work “for a single day,” she said.
She explained that as allegations of violations continue to be verified, many may amount to war crimes.
“It pains me to say that all our concerns remain valid, and the situation keeps deteriorating,” she stated.
‘Killed in front of his wife and children’
While the invasion is now in its 71st day, the conflict has actually been going on for eight years.
“Reports of deadly incidents, such as attacks on hospital No 3 and the drama theatre in Mariupol, on the railway station in Kramatorsk, on residential areas in Odesa, have become shockingly frequent,” said Ms. Bachelet. “There seems to be no end in sight to the daily reports of civilian deaths and injuries”.
Rather than describing the “palpable trauma and shock” of the victims, she quoted relatives of those who perished in Maripoul.
“He was killed in front of his wife and children”, said one witness. Another described a body of a loved one under the debris of her house, noting that they could not even bury her. A third witness described an uncle, “buried in a collective grave”.