UN chief outlines immediate humanitarian priorities for Ukraine
Martin Griffiths, together with Catherine Russell, head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), briefed ambassadors on how the UN and partners are responding to rising needs since the Russian offensive began 12 days ago.
“People are watching as this unnecessary conflict engulfs cities and civilians. As well as what’s happening in Ukraine, they have an extra sense of dread over the impact this will have on the wider world. I include myself in this category,” he said.
Lessen the suffering
Mr. Griffiths, who is also the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, outlined three immediate priorities “to lessen the pain and suffering we are all watching unfold in real time.”
First, the parties must take constant care to ensure military operations spare civilians, homes and other infrastructure. Furthermore, people wanting to leave areas of active hostilities must be allowed to do so safely and voluntarily.
As civilians in places such as Mariupol, Kharkiv and elsewhere under attack, desperately need aid, especially life-saving medical supplies, safe passage for humanitarian supplies is also required.
His third point highlighted the urgent need for a system of constant communication with the parties to support aid delivery. He explained that humanitarian notification systems have been implemented in other situations.
Talking to the sides
“I have already conveyed these three points to the authorities of Ukraine and to the Russian Federation,” said Mr. Griffiths, who is also the UN Humanitarian Coordinator.
A team from his office has been sent to Moscow to work on better humanitarian civil-military coordination, which follows a phone call on Friday between UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the country’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu.
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A first technical meeting with Ministry representatives has also been held.
“I welcome cooperation by both sides and sincerely hope to see further progress in the hours ahead,” said Mr. Griffiths.
Adapting to the ‘unthinkable’
The UN and partners were already in Ukraine prior to the escalation, supporting some 1.5 million people in the Donbas region affected by eight years of fighting between Government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
In the weeks before the Russian onslaught, they had already started preparing for worse. Mr. Griffiths said that “as the unthinkable became the reality”, they launched a scalable and agile humanitarian operation that could adapt to the changing situation.
Over the past 11 days, humanitarians have fed hundreds of civilians, with the World Food Programme (WFP) setting up supply chain operations to deliver immediate food and cash assistance to up to five million people inside Ukraine.
UN health agency WHO has shipped trauma care, emergency surgery equipment and other supplies, with more on the way. The conflict has so far forced more than 1.7 million people to flee to neighbouring countries, particularly Poland, and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is providing support to them.
Other UN initiatives have included the appointment of a Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, and the launch last week of two “robust” humanitarian plans to support people in the country and those who have crossed the borders.
Humanitarian assistance has continued in areas where security permits, Mr. Griffiths told the Council.
“Under the leadership of the Crisis Coordinator, and the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in country, we have new plans now, of course, on how to deliver where humanitarian needs are most acute,” he said.
“This includes the cities we have seen so much on these last days such as Mariupol, Kharkiv, and Kherson. Our response is being scaled up from hubs in Vinnutsya, Uzhorod and Lviv.”
Ms. Russell from UNICEF reported that the past eight years of conflict had already inflicted profound and lasting harm on the 7.5 million children in Ukraine, and threats have only grown with the current crisis.
Since the fighting began, at least 27 boys and girls have been killed, and 42 have been injured. UNICEF expects child casualty numbers, as well as displacement, to increase. Half of the refugees are children.
Meanwhile, homes, schools, orphanages, and hospitals have all come under attack, while water and sanitation facilities, and other civilian infrastructure, have been hit, affecting millions.
“What is happening to children in Ukraine is a moral outrage,” said Ms. Russell, delivering her first Council briefing since being appointed in December.
“Images of a mother and her two children and a friend lying dead on the street – hit by a mortar as they tried to flee to safety – must shock the conscience of the world. We must act to protect children from this brutality.”
Ms. Russell was recently at the Ukraine-Romania border, where she met children and mothers.
“The children talked about being suddenly pulled out of school, losing beloved toys, and the terrifying sound of shelling and gunfire. So many children have been deeply traumatized,” she reported.
Currently, UNICEF has 135 staff in Ukraine, with more being deployed. Teams supported by the agency are reaching children wherever they can, providing psychosocial care, mental health support, and protection services.
Other actions include establishing ‘Blue Dot’ hubs at border crossings in countries hosting Ukrainian refugees. The hubs are a safe space for children and families, providing services such as psychosocial support, basic legal counselling and places to play.
The brutality must end
The agency and UNHCR have also called for greater protection for unaccompanied and separated children crossing borders, and for some 100,000 children in Ukraine living in care institutions or boarding schools, half of whom have disabilities.
While UNICEF “will continue doing everything” to support Ukraine’s children, ” the brutality must end”, Ms. Russell stated.
“Children in Ukraine need help and protection. They need supplies and other critical support. They need access to basic social services like health and education. They need hope for the future. But above all children in Ukraine need peace. It is the only sustainable solution,” she said.