On Ukraine’s Independence Day, UN urges end to ‘senseless’ war

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the people of Ukraine ‘need peace’ as the conflict enters its seventh month.

resident looks at building damaged in fighting
A local resident looks at a building damaged during heavy fighting in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol [File: Alexei Alexandrov/AP Photo]

UN chief Antonio Guterres has called for an end to the war in Ukraine as the country marks the 31st anniversary of independence from the collapsed Soviet Union and six months since Russian forces invaded.

“The consequences of this senseless war are being felt far beyond Ukraine,” Guterres told the UN Security Council in New York on Wednesday.

“On the 31st anniversary I wish to congratulate the Ukrainian people,” he said, adding that they “need peace, and they need peace now”.

The United Nations chief took the floor ahead of a special meeting to discuss the conflict and briefed the council on his mission to Ukraine’s port of Odesa and Turkey earlier this month. During that trip, he witnessed the progress of a grain export deal between Kyiv and Moscow.

The deal “is progressing well”, Guterres said, but he issued a stark warning about the need to get more fertiliser out of Ukraine and Russia to further calm commodity markets and lower prices for consumers.

“If we don’t stabilise the fertiliser market in 2022, there simply will not be enough food in 2023,” he said.

He also welcomed the expressions of support for a mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and said the UN would continue to monitor the situation at the site.

The plant is occupied by Russian troops and has been hit repeatedly by shelling, which Moscow and Kyiv blame on each other. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a statement on Tuesday that it will visit the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine within days if talks to gain access succeed.

Similarly, humanitarian actors in Ukraine must also be granted “unhindered access to all people no matter where they live”, Guterres said, as humanitarian needs will rise with the onset of winter.

People who fled from Mariupol wait to leave
People who fled from Mariupol wait to leave after being processed upon their arrival at a reception center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia [File: Francisco Seco/AP Photo]

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement warning that Ukraine’s healthcare system was “preparing for a challenging winter ahead”.

“Though shaken, the health system has not collapsed,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

WHO verified that there have been 473 attacks on Ukrainian healthcare facilities and services in the past six months, resulting in at least 98 deaths and 134 injuries.

WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Henri Kluge said “attacks on healthcare are unconscionable,” as well as a violation of international humanitarian law.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also addressed the council via video link. The 15-member council voted 13 to one in favour of Zelenskyy’s intervention, with only China abstaining.

“Now the world can see how much it is dependent on our independence,” the Ukrainian president said.

He also accused Russia, which holds veto powers as one of five permanent members of the Security Council, of “nuclear blackmail”,  provoking “artificial hunger” and “imposing energy poverty”.

“Russia must release the captured territory of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. “It must retreat from our land [and] from our sea.”

Source: Al Jazeera