UN humanitarian agencies and partners on the ground in Ukraine were able to reach the town of Sumy, in the country’s northeast on Thursday, but access to the besieged and stricken city of Mariupol, where thousands of civilians are believed to have died amidst the brutal Russian bombardment, has yet to be given.
Briefing journalists in New York, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, noted that the first convoy had arrived in Sumy nearly two weeks ago, with another inter-agency relief mission reaching nearby Kharkiv, earlier this week.
“In today’s convoy, which included seven trucks delivered food, medicines and hygiene products that will be distributed by the Ukrainian Red Cross Society and its local partners, and that will take place in the days ahead.”
This included food for nearly 6,000 people provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the NGO “People in Need”; hygiene products for around 6,000; blankets, sleeping bags and solar lamps for more than 1,500 from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
Critical medical supplies for more than10,000 people for the next three months were also supplied, care of the World Health Organization (WHO).
In a statement issued by the Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, she said the humanitarian notification system with Ukraine and Russia, facilitated by the UN humanitarian coordination wing OCHA, had enabled safe passage for the convoy into Sumy.
But this is clearly not enough, she stressed. She added the UN needed to reach the most vulnerable people affected by the grave humanitarian crisis across the whole country.
Mariupol, Chernihiv, out of reach
“We and our partners have still not been able to reach areas where people are in desperate need of support, including Mariupol, Kherson and Chernihiv, despite extensive efforts and ongoing engagement with the parties to the conflict”, said Mr. Dujarric.
“We are continuing our dialogue with both parties to the conflict with the aim of urgently, immediately and consistently negotiating and facilitating the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance to the people who have been hardest-hit by this ongoing war.”
Sexual and reproductive health agency UNFPA, said it has transported 3,000 ‘dignity kits’, containing soap, underwear and other basic items, but essential hygiene items to social service centres, shelters and crisis rooms for gender-based violence survivors, in Dnipro, Poltava and Zaporizhzhia.
The UN migration agency IOM, received a shipment of 20,000 high energy biscuits at its warehouse in Lviv, Mr. Dujarric said. The mission will send the stock to eastern Ukraine and distribute to those most in need, targeting children and pregnant and lactating mothers in particular.
He added the UN had also “just received nearly $80 million in the last few days on our humanitarian appeal for Ukraine, which puts the $1.1 billion appeal at about 51 per cent funded.”
Russians ‘transfer control’ of Chernobyl site: IAEA
The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, arrived in the Russian region of Kaliningrad on Thursday, for talks with senior Russian officials on nuclear safety and the protection of plants in Ukraine.
This followed “detailed discussions” on Wednesday, he said, with senior Ukrainian government officials at South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) to review the concrete steps that need to be taken to immediately deliver urgent technical assistance for nuclear safety and security to Ukraine.
Ukraine told the IAEA on Thursday that “the Russian forces that have been in control of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant since 24 February had, in writing, transferred control of the NPP to Ukrainian personnel and moved two convoys of troops towards Belarus.”
A third convoy had also left the city of Slavutych, where many of the power plant’s staff live.
“In addition, Ukraine reported that there are still some Russian forces” at the NPP site, “but presumed that those forces are preparing to leave.”
The IAEA is in close consultations with Ukrainian authorities on sending the Agency’s first assistance and support mission to Chernobyl, in the next few days, Director General Grossi said.
‘Unable to confirm’ reports of radiation poisoning
In his statement, Mr. Grossi said the IAEA “has not been able to confirm reports of Russian forces receiving high doses of radiation”, while inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
Multiple news outlets on Thursday, reported that Russian troops had begun leaving the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, after suffering significant doses of potentially deadly radiation, digging trenches on the forest floor, inside the exclusion zone.
The staff at the site, oversee the safe storage of defunct fuel rods, and the remnants of the exploded reactor at Chernobyl, which is encased in concrete below ground level.
“The IAEA is seeking further information in order to provide an independent assessment of the situation”, said the Director-General.
UNHCR chief calls for end to war
Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, appealed on Thursday “in the strongest terms” for an end to the Russian offensive, calling on the international community to provide sustained support to the millions of civilians impacted by the fighting.
“The speed of the displacement, coupled with the huge numbers of people affected, is unprecedented in Europe in recent memory,” he said, at the end of a visit to Lviv, in western Ukraine.
“I have spoken with women, with children, who have been gravely affected by this war,” he said, in a statement. “Forced to flee extraordinary levels of violence, they have left behind their homes and often their families, leaving them shocked and traumatized.
“The protection and humanitarian needs are enormous and continue to grow. And while critically urgent, humanitarian aid alone cannot give them what they really need – and that is peace.”
Women and girls facing multiple threats
The head of gender agency UN Women, Sima Bahous, issued a strong statement on Ukraine on behalf of women and girls, warning that as they represent 90 per cent of all those fleeing their homes, “they are uniquely exposed to gender-based specific risks such as trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence and denial of access to essential services and goods.”
She said that reports of some of these risks, “already becoming reality have begun to surface. This demands an urgent gender-intentional response to ensure the specific rights and needs of women and girls are prioritized.”
She reiterated the UN Secretary-General’s urgent call for peace: “The war must stop now.”
She added that women’s civil society organizations inside Ukraine, and in neighbouring countries, were “uniquely qualified” to help meet the needs of women and girls on the run.
“The majority of these organizations remain operational, committed to supporting Ukraine’s women and girls, increasingly at the risk of their own lives.
“Women’s organizations lie at the heart of UN Women’s response in Ukraine. We have directly allocated immediate funds to women’s civil society organisations, with more to follow, alongside additional funds coming through the United Nations Women, Peace and Humanitarian Fund for which UN Women is the Secretariat.”