U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths abruptly canceled a trip to Turkey late Monday after he tested positive for COVID-19. He had planned to leave Tuesday to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Ankara's help in trying to achieve some level of humanitarian cease-fire in Ukraine.
"Cease-fires, they are not on the horizon right now, but they may be in a couple of weeks. They may be a little bit longer than that," Griffiths told reporters earlier in the day.
It depends on where the war is heading and how talks between Russia and Ukraine go, he said. Those talks are currently taking place at very low levels.
Griffiths also expressed hope that Orthodox Easter on April 24 could present an opportunity for a pause.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke with the Turkish president Sunday regarding Turkish-hosted mediation efforts. Guterres also emphasized the need for humanitarian corridors for the distribution of aid and the evacuation of civilians. Griffiths intended to follow up on that discussion with Erdogan.
The aid chief's trip to Moscow and Kyiv earlier this month had not yet yielded the hoped- for cooperation from Moscow.
"Neither I nor the secretary-general, if I could speak for him, had any illusions about whether there would be some sort of an immediate breakthrough in this," Griffiths said. "What I wanted to do was to set out for both parties, first of all, what our vision of a local cease-fire would be. How would it be monitored, for example? That's crucial, and we have done a lot of work on that, and how ready we are to step forward as soon as there is an opportunity."
The United Nations has 1,300 staff across Ukraine in both government-controlled areas and nongovernment areas in the east, and it recently reopened its Kyiv office. In addition to trying to open aid and evacuation corridors to besieged cities such as Mariupol in the south, it is preparing for a fierce battle for eastern Ukraine.
"The Donbas is a massive, massive humanitarian worry," Griffiths said, referring to the eastern region.
He urged the parties to return to the negotiating table in Istanbul to continue discussions.
"Even if the eventual war aims may be unrealized or unclear, we certainly need that to happen," he said of resuming substantive talks. "On the humanitarian side, we need much, much more willing acceptance, primarily of the Russian Federation, to allow convoys in and convoys out in these places of great need."
The United Nations says 4.9 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, and 7.1 million more are internally displaced.