New York: Describing Ukraine as “an epicenter of unbearable heartache and pain”, the UN chief took to the podium alongside its president in Kyiv on Thursday, vowing to increase support for the people amidst the suffering, and the millions displaced in the wake of Russia’s invasion.
“I am here to focus on ways on how the UN can expand support for the people of Ukraine, saving lives, reduce suffering and help find the path of peace”, Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters from across the world gathered in a stately room, with curtains drawn.
Shortly after the press conference, two missile strikes reportedly rocked the capital, a reminder that the war is far from over, despite the Russian withdrawal from the surrounding suburbs.
At least one person was killed, and several injured – with some buried beneath rubble as two high rise buildings caught fire – according to news reports, in the northwest of the city
‘Awe’ at Ukraine’s resolve
“I want the Ukrainian people to know that the world sees you, hears you, and is in awe of your resilience and resolve”, declared the UN chief.
“I also know that words of solidarity are not enough. I am here to zero in on needs on the ground and scale up operations.
“This war must end, and peace must be established, in line the charter of the United Nations and international law. Many leaders have made many good efforts to stop the fighting, though these efforts, so far, have not succeeded.
“I am here to say to you, Mr. President, and to the people of Ukraine: We will not give up.”
‘Crisis within a crisis’: Mariupol
Mr. Guterres said the tens of thousands of civilians and fighters believed to be left in the besieged and destroyed coastal city of Mariupol, were in “desperate need” of a humanitarian corridor to escape the horrors of the last redoubt against the Russian invaders, of the Azovstal steel plant complex.
“Mariupol is a crisis within a crisis. Thousands of civilians need life-saving assistance. Many are elderly, in need of medical care or have limited mobility. They need an escape route out of the apocalypse.”
He recalled that in his meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, there had been an agreement “in principle” to involve the UN and Red Cross, to aid the evacuation of civilians.
“Today, President Zelenskyy and I had the opportunity to address this issue”, he said, adding that “as we speak, there are intense discussions to move forward on this proposal to make it a reality.”
Failure in New York
Bearing in mind that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine was a clear violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the UN Charter, Mr. Guterres expressed his categorical view, that the Security Council had failed to live up to its primary purpose to prevent or end the war.
“This is a source of great disappointment, frustration and anger”, he said.
“But the men and women of the United Nations are working every day for the people of Ukraine, side by side with so many brave Ukrainian organizations. I salute the more than 1,400 staff of the UN — the vast majority of whom are Ukrainian nationals. They are on the ground in nine operational hubs and 30 locations.”
He said the complex aid mission had been “one of the fastest scale-up operations we have ever undertaken, and we are very much aware that not everything is perfect. Whatever we can provide pales in comparison to the needs.”
He pledged more action “across the board – coordinating with the Ukrainian Government every step of the way.”
Support for millions
He said life-saving humanitarian aid had reached 3.4 million people inside Ukraine, adding that the UN was aiming to more than double that number to 8.7 million by the end of August.
Mr. Guterres said cash assistance was being expanded, and the UN is distributing $100 million per month, aiming to reach 1.3 million people by the end of May, and covering two million by August.
“This is not a typical humanitarian UN operation in a developing country, with lots of problems of governance and lots of difficulties. Ukraine is a country with a government and a system of support to its citizens, and so the role of the UN is not to replace that system, it is to support the Government to support the people of Ukraine.”
Food aid has reached 2.3 million people, said the Secretary-General, with the aim to help four million by May and six million by June.
He said the UN would increase capacity to meet the needs of the 7.7 million that have been displaced inside Ukraine, while the World Health Organization (WHO) is delivering medical supplies for trauma and emergency care for more than seven million.
“And we are advancing the work of accountability and justice by monitoring and reporting on human rights violations wherever they are detected.”
Ground zero for the future
“Finally”, he told reporters in Kyiv, “in many ways, we are at ground zero for the world we need to build – a world of respect for international law, the UN Charter and the power of multilateralism, a world that protects civilians, a world that advances human rights, a world where leaders live up to the values that they have promised to uphold.”