UN chief launches ceasefire plan to halt suffering in Ukraine

Previous humanitarian deals between Moscow and Kyiv unravelled as shells kept on flying

Secretary General Antonio Guterres outside the Security Council at UN headquarters in New York on March 14. AP

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres pushed on Monday for a ceasefire to help ease widespread suffering in Ukraine’s war and directed the body's top humanitarian, Martin Griffiths, to broker a deal between Russia and Ukraine.

The UN chief said the Russian invasion of its smaller neighbour had ravaged towns and cities, caused the “senseless loss of thousands of lives” and forced about 10 million people to flee their homes.

“I am therefore appealing for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, to allow for progress in serious political negotiations, aimed at reaching a peace agreement based on the principles of the UN Charter,” Mr Guterres told reporters in New York.

“A cessation of hostilities will allow essential humanitarian aid to be delivered and enable civilians to move around safely. It will save lives, prevent suffering, and protect civilians.”

He directed Mr Griffiths, the UN head of humanitarian affairs and a former diplomat and aid worker, to “explore with the parties involved the possible agreements and arrangements for a humanitarian ceasefire”.

UN humanitarians have already met their Russian counterparts in Moscow to set up a so-called deconfliction mechanism to share information on aid convoy routes in Ukraine to prevent them being hit by accidental fire.

Ukrainian and Russian officials have brokered humanitarian pauses and corridors for civilians to escape besieged cities, but many have unravelled quickly, with Kyiv accusing Russian forces of continuing to attack the safe zones.

Mr Guterres spoke against a backdrop of continuing violence in Ukraine, where Russian forces continued their assault on the port of Mariupol and other strategic cities, while Ukrainian officials on Monday said they had regained control of the frontline town of Irpin, near Kyiv.

About four million refugees have spilt across Ukraine’s borders, but flows have dipped in recent days — prompting questions about whether Russia’s unpredictable military assault was winding down or had reached a temporary lull.

The UN chief slammed Moscow for starting a war that had led to the “systematic destruction of essential infrastructure” and triggered “skyrocketing food and energy prices” that threatened low-income countries everywhere.

The UN has 1,000 staffers in Ukraine across cities such as Dnipro, Vinnytsia, Lviv, Uzhorod, Chernivitzi, Mukachevo, Luhansk and Donetsk. They have delivered food, blankets, medicine, water and hygiene supplies as well as provided shelter for about 900,000 people.

“The solution to this humanitarian tragedy is not humanitarian. It is political,” Mr Guterres said.

“I strongly appeal to the parties to this conflict and to the international community as a whole to work with us for peace in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and across the world.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Kyiv's negotiators are examining a Russian demand for Ukraine's neutrality, which had previously been rejected. The Kremlin says previous rounds of talks have made little progress.

Updated: March 28, 2022, 3:40 PM
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