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Ukraine: UN condemns deadly attack on train station, dozens of civilians killed

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Refugees from Ukraine wait to register for cash assistance in Warsaw, Poland. © UNHCR/Maciej Moskwa

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.”

Exodus continues

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.

Lifesaving convoys

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 (WHOverified 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.

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Dozens missing after migrant boat sinks in Aegean Sea

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Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. (file) © UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson

Dozens of people are said to be missing after a boat of migrants and refugees sank in the Aegean Sea on Wednesday off the Greek island of Karpathos, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

“Very sad news from the Aegean: Dozens of people are missing after a boat sank off the island of Rhodes this morning (Wednesday),” UNHCR’s office in Greece said in a tweet.

News media reported that the vessel sank at dawn after setting sail from southern Türkiye yesterday, heading for Italy.

29 rescued

A major search and rescue operation is underway,” said UNHCR.

According to news reports, the Greek Coast Guard said that an air and sea rescue operation saved 29 people, all men, from the waters between Rhodes and Crete.

The media also cited the Greek authorities in reporting that the rescued are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

The wrecked boat had sailed from Antalya, located on the southern coast of neighbouring Türkiye.

Still searching

News media quoted a Greek Coast Guard press official who said that those rescued affirmed that the voyage began with 80 people on board – so up to 50 are still missing.  

UNHCR confirmed the number of missing.

Deadly route

Since the beginning of the year, UNHCR has said that more than 60 people have died in the eastern Mediterranean.

Aegean Sea crossings between the Greek islands and Turkish coasts are often perilous – taking the lives of many migrants and refugees who travel on makeshift boats with hopes of arriving in Europe.

Since January, 64 people have died in the eastern Mediterranean, and 111 in 2021, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The last shipwreck in the Aegean Sea, which took place on 19 June, took the lives of eight people off the island of Mykonos, according to the IOM.

Every more deadly crossing

While the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe is lower than in 2015, the journeys have become increasingly more deadly.

Throughout last year, the UN counted 3,231 migrants and refugees dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea, and 945 people so far this year.

Successful voyages

At the same time, 70,325 migrants did manage to reach Europe, of which 65,548 individual crossings were reported in the Mediterranean, according to UNHCR.

Since the beginning of the year, Italy received the largest number of arrivals – 43,740, followed by Spain – nearly 17,000, Greece – 7,261, and Cyprus – 2,268.

Last year there were 123,300 arrivals, and in 2020, 95,800. Previously, 123,700 crossed the Mediterranean in 2019, and 141,500 in 2018.

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Nuclear-free Mongolia a ‘symbol of peace in a troubled world’

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Secretary-General António Guterres greets Mongolian peacekeepers which has the largest per capita contribution to peacekeeping operations. UN Mongolia/Rentsendorj Bazarsuk

In a visit to Mongolia on Tuesday, Secretary-General António Guterres underscored the UN’s full solidarity for the country, which he described as “a symbol of peace in a troubled world”. 

Mr. Guterres was speaking to journalists at a press conference in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, following a meeting with the Foreign Minister, Battsetseg Batmunkh. 

He stated that in a world with dramatic geopolitical divides, and where conflicts proliferate everywhere, Mongolia – as an area free of nuclear weapons – is an example for other countries to follow.   

No more nuclear weapons 

“We live in a world where for the first time in decades people are thinking that a nuclear war might be possible again,” said Mr. Guterres. 

“There is only one way to be absolutely sure that a nuclear war is impossible, and that way is if there are no nuclear weapons.”

Mongolia is the latest stop on the Secretary-General’s visit to Asia, which began in Japan on Friday. 

Tribute to peacekeepers 

Over the past six decades, the country has become an increasingly important contributor to the UN’s work, he said. 

Mr. Guterres expressed gratitude to Mongolian peacekeepers serving at UN peace operations, “often in the most challenging settings and with courage in the way they protect civilians where unfortunately, there’s sometimes no peace to keep”.  

The Secretary-General had met with Mongolia’s President, Khurelsukh Ukhnaa, and other senior officials, earlier on Tuesday. 

They discussed the geopolitical situation in the region, the challenges Mongolia faces as a landlocked country, and national efforts to tackle climate change.  

‘Make peace with nature’ 

Relatedly, Mr. Guterres also joined young people and peacekeepers at a tree-planting ceremony, part of Mongolia’s One Billion Trees campaign to address climate change and desertification. 

“My generation was very stupid. My generation declared war on nature – with climate change with the loss of biodiversity, with pollution,” he said

Mr. Guterres stressed how “nature is striking back” with storms, desertification, floods and disasters, which are making life very difficult for many people around the world and causing many victims.   

“Your generation has an important task to make peace with nature,” he said.  “And what we are going to do today, must be a gesture of that new attitude to make peace with nature.” 

The Secretary-General also visited a nomadic family in Mongolia and learned about their way of life. 

He also met a group of beneficiaries from UN projects, including women entrepreneurs and youth activists.   

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Substantial progress made in Vienna; sides focusing on Safeguards

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image source: Tehran Times

The third day of talks between experts from Iran and the EU centered around technical and legal matters regarding the Safeguards agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Delegates from Iran, the EU and the U.S. resumed talks in Vienna on Thursday after nearly a five-month hiatus. This round of talks started on Thursday without the presence of nuclear negotiators from the European trio – Germany, France and Britain. Only experts from these three countries have attended the negotiations.  

Iran believes that any agreement on restoring the nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is dependent on putting an end to unsubstantiated allegations about Iran’s past nuclear program. Iran insists that these questions had already been resolved within the PMD, when the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015.

According to reports, substantial progress has been made in bringing the views of Iran and the U.S. closer together during the last three days. However, in Tehran’s view nothing is resolved until everything is settled.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), also confirmed on Saturday that talks are mainly focused on Safeguards issues.

“We are now negotiating,” Kamalvandi said of the talks between Iran’s nuclear experts with Mora.

On the atmosphere of the talks, he said, “It is not bad.”

Mohammad Marandi, a senior expert on nuclear issues, also told Al-Mayadeen TV that “progresses” have been made in Vienna, but one should be “cautious”. He argued the success of talks is 50 percent. Marandi said the differences remain only between Iran and the United States.

He added, “We have heard from certain European sources that the Americans have revived their views on certain issues.”

The Russian chief negotiator in the Vienna talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, also tweeted that there is “no unresolvable issue” on the table in the Vienna talks.

Source: Tehran Times

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