Just over a month ago the war in Ukraine started, and it shows no signs of abating. Children, women and men are being killed, injured, displaced and traumatized. Hospitals, homes and schools are being destroyed. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as of 27 March, 1,119 people have died, including 99 innocent children. We know these numbers are conservative and the tolls are far greater. Cities like Mariupol, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and many others – bustling and full of life just one month ago – are encircled, bombarded, and blockaded.
People in these towns lack food, water, medicine, electricity and heating. They are trapped. Desperate. Afraid.
In some neighborhoods, it’s not even safe to bury the dead.
More than ten million people – including more than half of Ukraine’s children – have fled their homes. This includes an estimated 6.5 million people who are internally displaced in the country, according to the International Organization for Migration. The UN refugee agency reports that more than 3.9 million refugees have crossed the borders to neighbouring countries in the past month.
Our work is to save lives.
The humanitarian system has scaled up to deliver despite the spreading conflict. Since February 24, humanitarian organizations have reached around 890,000 people across
Ukraine, mostly in the east, with multi-sectoral assistance. People have received food, shelter, blankets, medicine, bottled water, and hygiene supplies.
We are working around the clock to reach more and more people in need. The UN and our humanitarian partners are working impartially and relentlessly to uphold humanitarian principles, negotiate safe passage in and out of encircled areas for one cause alone: to provide life-saving assistance.
Humanitarian logistics and supply chains are scaling up every day. But treacherous security risks and access challenges are hampering our efforts. Many routes are disrupted, and humanitarian convoys and workers are frequently unable to pass due to shelling, fighting and landmines.
Humanitarians of all stripes are putting their lives at risk to help those in need. There are now more than 1,230 United Nations personnel in the country, working via humanitarian hubs across the country. And there are more than 100 humanitarian organizations implementing or planning activities in every oblast in Ukraine, in all sectors.
The brave work of the Ukrainian Red Cross and other civil society organizations who are working shoulder-to-shoulder with volunteers and communities is astounding.
Ukraine is a humanitarian paradox: side by side with extreme violence we see extreme kindness, profound solidarity and the gentlest of care.
I am humbled and inspired by the tireless commitment of these people and we must continue to support their work.
Where security allows, humanitarian convoys are unloading much-needed supplies and delivering equipment to repair damaged infrastructure.
On 18 March – after delays due to ongoing hostilities – the first UN-organized convoy reached Sumy in the north-east. The convoy delivered 130 tons of much-needed medical supplies, water, ready-to-eat meals and canned food for 35,000 people as well as essential equipment for the repair of water systems that will help improve access to water for some 50,000 people.
Yesterday – again after delays due to ongoing fighting – the second UN-organized convoy reached Kharkiv where supplies of food, other essential relief items, and emergency health kits and medicines were unloaded for distribution by the Ukrainian Red Cross society.
Countrywide, more than 180 metric tons of medical supplies have been delivered, and more than 470 metric tons are on the way. Where we can, we buy supplies from the local market and work alongside local efforts.
But we need to move to scale. More convoys are planned for the days and weeks ahead to reach many more people with desperately needed aid.
I am sure David [Beasley] will tell us more about the World Food Programme and its work over the past month and expansion of its operations in Ukraine.
Civilians in Ukraine desperately need this assistance and protection.
But to do that, all parties must uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law. To ensure safe and unhindered humanitarian access to help civilians in their homes and those on the road in Ukraine, and to allow those civilians who want to leave to get out. We need detailed, realistic agreements on humanitarian ceasefires and pauses to allow aid in, and people out.
For predators and human traffickers, the war in Ukraine is not a tragedy. It’s an opportunity.
Humanitarian organizations are worried about the risk of trafficking, as well as sexual violence, exploitation and abuse in Ukraine and the region. Children fleeing the war are at especially heightened risk of human trafficking and exploitation. Predators are luring single parents on the road with promises of transport and accommodation.
We are scaling up our protection services at the borders but also in the country to make sure people have information available on safe options and routes, access to helplines and safe shelter. Humanitarian partners are coordinating closely to not only monitor risks of sexual violence, trafficking and abuse but provide swift and specialized services to survivors.
Humanitarian partners agree our worst-case scenario has been reached and, in some areas, surpassed.
This is why last week the Principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee agreed to revise the Flash Appeal that has rallied US$506 million of the $1.1 billion needed to support the response. The Refugee Response Plan, coordinated by the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, will also be revised. The generosity and welcome of Ukraine’s neighbours remain a bright spot in a darkening landscape.
The global impacts of this war are becoming clearer as each day of this conflict continues.
It threatens to make things even worse in the world’s biggest humanitarian crises such as Afghanistan, Yemen and in the Horn of Africa.
These countries are already grappling with food insecurity and economic fragility. Rises in food, fuel and fertilizer prices will hit hard now and for the coming seasons. We are only beginning to see the breadth of this crisis on other regions and countries. We will all be affected.
The Secretary-General has asked Under-Secretary General Martin Griffiths to urgently engage with the parties on possible arrangements for a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine.
Martin has already been in touch with both parties who have welcomed the initiative, and he will travel to the region within days.
We must find measures – from local pauses to wider ceasefires – to save lives. Protect the homes of civilians from being attacked. Their schools. Their hospitals.
Civilians are running out of food, of energy, and of hope. Our aim is simple: silence the guns and save lives.