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UN to Seek Humanitarian Cease-fire in Ukraine

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Evacuation buses carrying internally displaced people arrive at an IDP center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, March 25, 2022.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday his aid chief will immediately begin exploring with Moscow and Kyiv the possible arrangements for a humanitarian cease-fire in Ukraine.

"But let's be clear: The solution to this humanitarian tragedy is not humanitarian, it is political," Guterres told reporters at U.N. headquarters. "I am, therefore, appealing for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire to allow for progress in serious political negotiations aimed at reaching a peace agreement based on the principles of the United Nations Charter."

He said a cessation of hostilities would allow critical humanitarian aid to be delivered and allow civilians to move around safely — two things that have not been possible in much of Ukraine for weeks.

"It will save lives, prevent suffering and protect civilians," Guterres said.

U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths has made contacts already, and Guterres said he hopes he will go to Moscow and Kyiv as soon as feasible.

"I strongly hope that there will be goodwill from all sides for this cease-fire to take place," he said.

In one month of war, Russia has inflicted horrific loss and suffering on Ukraine. Entire neighborhoods have been bombed, and civilians have been killed, injured and displaced. The siege and encirclement of key cities has led to shortages of food and drinking water, cuts to electricity, fuel shortages and other difficulties for millions.

"This must stop," the U.N. chief said of the death and destruction.

Destroyed cars are seen in front of an apartment building which was heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, March 27, 2022.
Destroyed cars are seen in front of an apartment building which was heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, March 27, 2022.

The U.N. has had a team from its humanitarian division in Moscow for weeks now, coordinating with the Ministry of Defense so it can safely move aid convoys into besieged areas in Ukraine and help civilians who want to leave to do so.

Russia's mission to the United Nations said in a statement that it regretted that Guterres did not take note of Moscow's efforts to have a resolution related to humanitarian efforts adopted in the U.N. Security Council on March 23.

That resolution failed to be adopted when 13 of the 15 council members abstained in the vote. While the proposal contained some provisions for safe aid access, it did not call for a cessation of hostilities or name Russia as the cause of the humanitarian crisis. Only Russia and China backed the measure.

Russia's U.N. delegation said it is still prepared to cooperate with the council on the humanitarian track in Ukraine and to discuss all modalities.

The U.N. Security Council is due to receive an update on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine on Tuesday.

Aid deliveries

Guterres said since the conflict started, the U.N. and local partners have reached about 900,000 people with assistance, mainly in the eastern part of the country.

A man and his child wait to get food and drinking water at a supermarket in the territory under the Government of the Donetsk People's Republic control, on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 24, 2022.
A man and his child wait to get food and drinking water at a supermarket in the territory under the Government of the Donetsk People's Republic control, on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 24, 2022.

Large-scale aid convoys have been unable to get through, due to ongoing hostilities. But the secretary-general said one convoy did make it through on Monday to the besieged city of Kharkiv with supplies to aid thousands of people.

The only other major aid convoy was on March 18, which reached inhabitants of the badly affected northeastern city of Sumy with food, bottled water and ready-to-eat meals for 35,000 people.

Volunteers carry bags of food from a store to deliver to residents in need, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 28, 2022.
Volunteers carry bags of food from a store to deliver to residents in need, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 28, 2022.

The World Food Program has warned that Ukrainians are having difficulty finding food as the supply chain breaks down and stocks run out.

On Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution demanding Russia stop its war and observe international humanitarian law — namely, the protection of all civilians, civilian infrastructure, humanitarians, medical personnel and journalists.

Nuclear concerns

The U.N. chief was also asked about growing concerns of possible nuclear, chemical or biological war in Ukraine. He said he had spoken to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday morning and that the nuclear watchdog is planning several initiatives in the coming days to guarantee the security of nuclear facilities inside Ukraine.

As to the possibility of an unconventional war, he said "that would be something that I believe will be avoided. It must be avoided."

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