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UN Urges Return of Aid Agencies to Ukraine’s Rebel-held Area

FILE - U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic speaks during his meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister of Crimea government Rustam Temirgaliev in Simferopol, Friday, March 21, 2014.

A senior United Nations official warns of dire humanitarian consequences if the self-styled authorities in Ukraine’s separatist-controlled area of Luhansk do not permit U.N. and international aid agencies to return to the region. Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, has briefed the U.N. Human Rights Council on his recent mission to Ukraine.

A few days ago, the de facto authorities in the rebel-controlled region of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine ordered U.N. agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and non-governmental organizations to leave the territory.

Simonovic says he does not know the reason behind this decision. He says denying accreditation to these humanitarian agencies is a matter of great concern.

“I think that kicking out United Nations as well as other humanitarians is a great mistake,” said Simonovic. "I think that in period ahead of winter, this is extremely harmful for the civilian population.”

Simonovic, who visited Ukraine from September 20 to 25, says he met many bedridden children who lacked even the most basic medicines. He says there is a shortage of retroviral and psychotropic drugs in Luhansk and the other separatist region of Donetsk.

He notes there was an outbreak of polio in Ukraine recently while commenting on the consequences of not dealing with a potential epidemic.

"There are 90,000 vaccines of polio that UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund) has, which will not be distributed, saving directly lives of children,” said Simonovic.

Simonovic says he is pleased that a cease-fire between the government and rebels, which began on September 1 is largely holding. He says he believes this offers a unique window of opportunity that should be used to enact some human rights-centered confidence-building measures among the warring parties. For example, he says they could include an agreement to release all detained persons and ease lines of communication among people living on opposing sides of the contested territories.