Millions of Lives Shattered, Emergency Relief Coordinator Says, as Delegates Stress Ceasefire, Safe Humanitarian Corridors Urgently Needed
Alarmed by spreading violence in Ukraine, targeted attacks on civilians, ineffective humanitarian corridors and spiralling risks, briefers and delegates alike called for decisive action to end the conflict, as the Security Council held its seventh meeting in two weeks related to the unfolding situation.
[For details on Security Council meetings on the situation in Ukraine since 17 February, see Press Releases SC/14795, SC/14798, SC/14803, SC/14808, SC/14809, SC/14812 and SC/14819.]
“Simply put, millions of lives have been shattered,” said Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. Indeed, the reach of humanitarian efforts can only go so far without the committed cooperation of Ukraine and the Russian Federation to ensure civilian protection and the maintenance of safe corridors for people wanting to escape the violence and those delivering critical aid. Some civilians are unable to escape at a time when 1.7 million have already fled the country since the conflict began on 24 February, while those who remain are facing cuts of essential services. Voicing an extra sense of dread over the impact the conflict will have on the wider world, he expressed deep worry about the consequences on vulnerable people living half a world away, with food prices spiking and supplies uncertain.
“We have the capacity and the know-how to meet the most urgent needs in Ukraine, if the parties cooperate, but make no mistake, we are unable to meet the needs of civilians today; I hope we will not fail them tomorrow,” he said, summarizing the widespread ongoing humanitarian efforts alongside enormous and growing needs blanketed by spreading violence. To address the current situation, he highlighted priority areas, which he had already conveyed to Ukraine and the Russian Federation: the parties must take constant care to spare civilians and civilian homes and infrastructure in their military operations; safe passage must be ensured for humanitarian supplies into areas of active hostilities; and a system of constant communication must be established with parties to the conflict, with assurances provided to enable aid deliveries.
Providing the latest information on the ground, Catherine Russell, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), called on Security Council members to remind all parties of their legal and moral obligation to protect children and spare them from attack and called for an immediate suspension of ongoing military actions in Ukraine. Half of those fleeing are children and, since 24 February, at least 27 have been killed and 42 wounded, she said, noting that UNICEF and its partners are working to meet rapidly escalating humanitarian needs in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries. Efforts include Fund-supported child protection mobile teams, the delivery of 40 tons of medical life-saving items for children and mothers to 22 hospitals from five of the most affected regions and the launch of “Blue Dot” safe spaces in hosting countries at border crossings, offering psycho-social support, basic legal counselling, recreational kits and hygiene products.
“What is happening to children in Ukraine is a moral outrage,” she said, expressing deep concern about the safety and well-being of the nearly 100,000 children, half of them with disabilities, who live in institutions and boarding schools. Moreover, the 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”, she said.
In the ensuing debate, Council members agreed that a ceasefire is urgently needed along with safe, guaranteed humanitarian corridors. Many members reiterated strong calls to end the conflict, with some pointing to violated ceasefire agreements brokered by the parties and broken by the Russian Federation. Many condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for the continued attacks, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian armed forces. Some expressed support for the work of the International Criminal Court, emphasizing that perpetrators of war crimes will be held accountable.
Describing the Russian Federation’s breaches of humanitarian ceasefires as an abomination, the United Kingdom’s representative declared: “Let me be clear — we will hold Russia to account for its actions and will investigate thoroughly allegations of war crimes and violations of international law.” What the Ukrainian people really need is an end to the invasion, she said, appealing to the Russian Federation to end its war before bringing even more tragedy to Ukraine and even more shame on its proud nation.
In a similar vein, the United States delegate, urging parties to heed the call the humanitarian actors just sounded, called on the Russian Federation to accept and honour timebound safe passage in agreed upon locations and a safe communication system to ensure that supplies can reach those most in need. Increasingly concerned about civilian protection, especially of women, girls and other vulnerable groups affected by “Putin’s war”, she said Washington, D.C., has been warning Moscow for weeks that this war will make the Russian Federation weaker, not stronger.
The Russian Federation’s representative called on the Security Council to keep to the humanitarian context of what is happening in Ukraine and not rely on Ukrainian politicians and mendacious social networks for their political views. Citing an ongoing disinformation war in the West, he said Ukrainian radicals and neo-Nazis — and not the Russian armed forces — are holding hostages in towns and cities and using civilians as human shields. Russian Federation units had declared a ceasefire that radicals in Mariupol violated, as heard in an intercepted radio conversation instructing them to “shoot at the legs” of those heading for the humanitarian corridors, he said. Further, the deployment of heavy weaponry, including bombardment artillery, has become a rule for Ukrainian nationalist battalions, while radicals are continuing to hold over 1,500 foreigners hostage in multiple cities.
Echoing condemnation of the ongoing conflict, Kenya’s delegate also said the impact of the conflict will trigger a shock to the global food supply, given that Ukraine is a major producer. At the same time, the world will suffer greatly from the unilateral and regional sanctions against the Russian Federation. Humanitarian and legal consideration must be given to their frightful impact on the Russian people, a concern that extends to many nations, including Kenya. As such, he cautioned that while the sanctions are aimed at pressuring the Russian Federation for its inexcusable breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, they will end up harming innocent Russians and the Global South.
Ukraine’s delegate said the Council must be decisive in responding to the worst humanitarian crisis seen since the end of the Second World War in Europe. Raising grave concerns about the reality on the ground, he said the Russian Federation’s troops have blocked numerous attempts of the Ukrainian authorities to evacuate civilians through humanitarian corridors, denied access of international organizations to provide humanitarian assistance to the most affected places, opened fire on evacuees and evacuation vehicles and shelled the roads allocated for safe corridors. Moreover, Moscow has already sent a letter showing humanitarian corridor routes to the Russian Federation and Belarus only, he said, reiterating the call for the previously agreed passages allowing people to leave for Europe. The fragility of the situation reaches beyond Ukraine, into Europe and across the world, he said, adding that defending his country from the Russian Federation’s aggression also protects the world from hunger. He stressed that people in Ukraine require concrete actions to save their lives, their health and their property.
Also delivering statements were representatives of Albania, Ireland, Mexico, France, India, Gabon, Brazil, Ghana, Norway, China and the United Arab Emirates.
The representative of the Russian Federation took the floor for a second time.
The meeting began at 3:06 p.m. and ended at 5:29 p.m.