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UN Chief: Russian Invasion 'Not Irreversible'

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to members of the media outside the Security Council chamber, Feb. 24, 2022, at United Nations Headquarters.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to members of the media outside the Security Council chamber, Feb. 24, 2022, at United Nations Headquarters.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed again Thursday to Russian President Vladimir Putin to cease his invasion of Ukraine and withdraw his troops.

"The decisions of the coming days will shape our world and directly affect the lives of millions upon millions of people," Guterres told reporters at U.N. headquarters.

The use of force by one country against another violates the bedrock principles of the United Nations that all states have agreed to in its Charter, he said.

Guterres said the current military offensive is wrong.

"It is against the (U.N.) Charter. It is unacceptable. But it is not irreversible," he said. "I repeat my appeal from last night to President Putin: Stop the military operation; bring the troops back to Russia."

Russian military strikes were reported Thursday and Friday not just in eastern Ukraine but in other cities, including the capital, Kyiv, and Kharkiv, Kramatorsk, Odesa and Mariupol. Russian forces have captured the Chernobyl nuclear plant. In 1986, it was the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that the Russian action “is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”

Guterres said the world knows the toll of war, urging "we need peace."

"With deaths rising, we are seeing images of fear, anguish and terror in every corner of Ukraine," the U.N. chief said. "People — everyday innocent people — always pay the highest price."

Millions for the humanitarian effort

Guterres announced that the U.N. is releasing $20 million from its emergency fund to help meet growing humanitarian needs in and around Ukraine.

"We are providing lifesaving humanitarian relief to people in need, regardless of who or where they are," the secretary-general said. "The protection of civilians must be priority number one."

The U.N. has about 1,500 staff members in the country, and they are "staying and delivering." Some personnel have been relocated for safety, while a core group of essential staff remains working in the areas around the line of contact.

Before Thursday's invasion, the U.N. was assisting 1.8 million vulnerable people on both sides of the line of contact. That number is likely to rise.

UN alarm

A number of U.N. officials issued statements of alarm Thursday.

New UNICEF chief Catherine Russell called for an immediate cease-fire, saying the intensifying hostilities pose an immediate threat to the lives and well-being of the country's 7.5 million children.

"The past eight years of conflict have inflicted profound and lasting damage to children on both sides of the line of contact. The children of Ukraine need peace, desperately, now," she said in a statement.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned at a U.N. Security Council meeting this week that an invasion could cause a massive refugee crisis, prompting some 5 million people to flee the country.

"We have stepped up our operations and capacity in Ukraine and neighboring countries," U.N. Refugee chief Filippo Grandi said.

Ukraine is a major global wheat exporter, and if production and export is cut because of the conflict, its impact will be felt far beyond Ukraine, warned the executive director of the World Food Program.

"Interruption to the flow of grain out of the Black Sea region will increase prices and add further fuel to food inflation at a time when its affordability is a concern across the globe following the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," David Beasley said.

Security Council action

Meanwhile, diplomats said Security Council members are drafting a resolution that would condemn Russia for invading Ukraine and reaffirm the country's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. A vote is expected Friday.

The text will also call on Russia to immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

A senior U.S. official said they expect Russia to veto the text, but strong support from other council members would underscore Moscow's isolation.

Diplomats are expected to then move quickly to the General Assembly, where it could be adopted without a threat of veto and with strong moral backing but would not be legally binding.