In eastern Ukraine, a reported Russian missile attack on a railway station that’s killed dozens of civilians including children, has been condemned by the United Nations. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement, that the strike – and others against civilians and civilian infrastructure – were “gross violations” of international law.
Mr. Guterres said the strike on the Kramatorsk railway station in eastern Ukraine, which killed and injured scores of civilians waiting to be evacuated, “including many women, children and elderly”, was “completely unacceptable.”
The statement issued by his Spokesperson went on to remind “all parties of their obligations under international law to protect civilians, and of the urgency to agree on humanitarian ceasefires in order to enable the safe evacuation of, and humanitarian access to, populations trapped in conflict.
“The Secretary-General reiterates his appeal to all concerned to bring an immediate end to this brutal war.”
In an earlier statement, on Friday, UN Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, Amin Awad, said that many had suffered terrible injuries at the railway station and that the number of fatalities was likely to rise.
Assault on the most vulnerable
“It was widely reported over the last two days that the station and surrounding area had been full of civilians attempting to flee intensifying hostilities,” Mr. Awad said in a statement. “We are extremely disturbed by the reports of children, women, the elderly and people with disabilities – the most vulnerable people in the Kramatorsk area – who were caught up in this attack.”
Mr. Awad said the use of explosive weapons, “with wide area impact in populated areas is a clear violation of international humanitarian law. All military forces, in all conflicts, must not carry out attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. They must do their utmost to protect civilians.”
He added that hospitals in the surrounding area were now full of casualties: “We and our humanitarian partners are ready to do anything we can to help those who are responding to the attack and those who have survived. We have delivered first aid supplies as well as emergency food rations, water purification tablets and blankets.
“We continue to call on all the parties to this conflict to allow safe and unimpeded passage for people who wish to leave, to prevent attacks on essential transportation for civilians, and for life-saving relief supplies to reach those unable to move or evacuate.”
The UN Children’s Fund Ukraine Representative, Murat Sahin, said that the train station had been the main route out for thousands of families evacuating from Donetsk region, “which has seen some of the war’s worst destruction”, to relatively safer areas in Ukraine.
“Earlier today, UNICEF offloaded medical kits and emergency supplies at Kramatorsk”, he said.
“Over the past week, UNICEF has delivered about 50 metric tons of life-saving supplies including medicines, water and hygiene kits to Kramatorsk to respond to rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the east. The UNICEF team was delivering life-saving supplies to the regional health department, a kilometre away from the train station when the attack took place.”
Urgent need for ‘localized’ ceasefires
Local ceasefires are needed more urgently than ever in Ukraine as conflict shifts to the eastern regions following Russia’s withdrawal from the area around the capital Kyiv, UN humanitarians said on Friday, while global food prices spiked to record levels.
Six weeks since the Russian invasion, thousands of civilians are believed to be still trapped in the southern port city of Mariupol, where they’ve faced weeks of heavy shelling.
But there is still no truce agreement between Russian and Ukrainian forces to let them escape safely, amid continuing mediation efforts by UN emergency relief chief Martin Griffiths.
Agreement is key
“What is important is to get the parties to agree on …localised ceasefires,” said Jens Laerke, from UN aid coordination office OCHA. “It is a top priority to get the silencing of the guns in those cities, Mariupol being the worst affected, those where citizens are trapped.
“To allow them to get to safety voluntarily, to a place of their choosing. And to allow aid to get in. So, this is an incremental process.”
As fighting moves to the Luhansk and Donetsk regions where Russian-backed separatists already control significant Ukrainian territory, Mr. Laerke said that the UN and its partners are trying to push as much aid in as possible.
“People are still hunkered down in basements in Luhansk and Donetsk. We have in our planning convoys to go there…next week. Again, whether that happens again depends on the security situation.”
Since the war began on 24 February, well over four million people have fled Ukraine, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) confirmed.
“The war in Ukraine has triggered one of the fastest-growing displacement and humanitarian crises ever,” said UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh. “Within six weeks, more than 4.3 million refugees have fled the country, while a further 7.1 million are displaced internally.”
Inside Ukraine, core relief items have been distributed to reception centres set up by local authorities, but delivering aid to areas of active fighting “remains challenging,” Mr. Saltmarsh explained.
“We continue striving to reach hard-hit areas such as Mariupol and Kherson with life-saving assistance as part of inter-agency humanitarian convoys and have contributed to four such convoys under the humanitarian notification system: two to Sumy, one to Kharkiv and one to Sieverodonetsk, and delivered several additional convoys with the help of partners, reaching 15,600 people with relief items.”
The UN remains seriously concerned over continued attacks on healthcare inside Ukraine, as the World Health Organization (WHO) verified that more than 100 attacks on health care have happened since the start of the war on 24 February.
“The attacks so far have claimed 73 lives and injured 51 people,” said WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib.
Of the 103 attacks to date, 89 have impacted health facilities and 13 have affected transport, including ambulances.
Skyrocketing food prices
The conflict in Ukraine has also added to fears of skyrocketing global food prices, as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that its Food Price Index had made a “giant leap” to a new high since its inception in 1990.
“Driven largely by the conflict-related export disruptions from Ukraine and the Russian Federation, cereal prices jumped by nearly 20 per cent,” said Josef Schmidhuber, Deputy Director, Markets and Trade Division, FAO.
$25 billion fund call for food importers
To soften the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on nations that import most of their food needs from both countries, 80 FAO Members on Friday appealed for for the creation of a $25 billion fund to help them in the short term.
“This conflict severely aggravates the already considerable food security challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including already-high price inflation of food and agricultural inputs,” said FAO Member States who called for an Emergency Special Session of the UN agency’s Council.
To cover the most immediate needs, $6.3 billion is required for the Global Food Import Financing Facility to get off the ground, FAO said, noting that much more funding could be made available from other sources, such as Special Drawing Rights issued by the International Monetary Fund, which amounted to $650 billion in August 2021.
“The basic idea is just to alleviate the food import costs, the food import bills for net importers with high net import requirements and low income levels,” said Mr. Schmidhuber.