The UN and Ukraine: a year-long struggle with global repercussions

Date:

The UN and Ukraine: a year-long struggle with global repercussions

  • News by AUN News correspondent
  • Saturday, March 04, 2023
  • AUN News – ISSN: 2949-8090

Summary:

  • Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have been killed and maimed, dozens of Ukrainian cities have been left to rubble, and their inhabitants have been forced to go.

  • Since the deal was signed in July, around 21.9 million metric tonnes of grains and food products have been shipped, and the action is credited with helping to calm global food prices, which reached dizzying heights in March of 2022.

  • Over a third of the world’s population, or around 16 million individuals, have received lifesaving and life-sustaining humanitarian aid due to relief operations.

  • Throughout the winter, numerous Ukrainian towns were left powerless due to Russian attacks on vital infrastructure.

  • The United Nations is seeking $5.6 billion for Ukraine in 2023: $3.6 billion to provide humanitarian aid to over 11 million people out of nearly 18 million in need, and $1.7 billion to assist Ukrainian refugees in 10 host countries: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, and Slovakia.

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have been killed and maimed, dozens of Ukrainian cities have been left to rubble, and their inhabitants have been forced to go. UN investigations have uncovered evidence of war crimes.

Despite rushing to bomb shelters at the sound of air raid sirens and enduring power outages and heating shortages alongside the Ukrainian population, UN staff members have continued to offer humanitarian relief throughout the year.

The conflict has also disproportionately affected the rest of the world; Ukraine has long been known as the “breadbasket of the world” due to its prodigious grain production. As the conflict raged, exports were curtailed, resulting in a surge in global prices and an increase in the risk of food instability and starvation until an UN-led operation supported by Turkey aided in restoring grain supplies.

“Give peace a chance.”

From the very first hours of the war, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued severe warnings about the global repercussions.

On February 23, 2022, at precisely 9:30 p.m. New York time, a Security Council emergency meeting was convened at UN Headquarters at the request of Ukraine. First, the Secretary-General stated that “rumours and signs” suggested an imminent attack on Ukraine. He immediately addressed the President of Russia from the head of the Council’s unique horseshoe-shaped table, begging him to stop his forces from attacking Ukraine and “give peace a chance.”

Twenty minutes later, as the meeting continued, the 24th of February dawned on the European continent, and Vladimir Putin proclaimed the beginning of a “special military operation.” The invasion was underway.

The Secretary-General addressed President Putin again as he emerged from this late-night Security Council meeting to talk with reporters: “In the name of humanity, bring your forces back to Russia. “In the sake of humanity, do not launch what could be the deadliest conflict since the turn of the century.”

United Nations humanitarian agencies in Ukraine immediately swung into high gear and reported that the elderly and mothers with young children fled. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 50,000 individuals fled Ukraine within 48 hours of the invasion. This was just the beginning of the refugee crisis in Europe, with the fastest growth rate since World War II.

Immediate troop withdrawal: United Nations Assembly

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on March 2 during an extraordinary emergency session demanding that “the Russian Federation immediately, totally, and unconditionally remove all of its armed forces from the land of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.”

141 UN members supported the measure, 35 abstained, and five delegations voted against it: Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Eritrea.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Humanitarian Consequences of Aggression against Ukraine” resolution on March 24 during the newly resumed emergency special session. The resolution demanded that Russia immediately cease hostilities in Ukraine and cease attacks against the civilian population and infrastructure. The United Nations General Assembly requested an end to the blockade of Ukrainian cities, specifically Mariupol.

This resolution received the approval of 140 states. Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Eritrea condemned it, while 38 delegations abstained.

Even though General Assembly resolutions carry significant political and moral authority, these calls went unheeded, and later that same month, the United Nations received reports of civilian deaths in Bucha and other areas in the suburbs of Kyiv, as well as the bombing of Kharkiv and the destruction of Mariupol.

In Moscow, UN Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The UN Secretary-shuttle General’s diplomacy

While criticising the Russian invasion as an obvious breach of the UN Charter, Mr. Guterres visited both Russia and Ukraine at the end of April, meeting with President Putin in Moscow and President Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

As a result of the agreements struck during António Guterres’ travels to Moscow and Kyiv, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were able to conduct two operations to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal steel complex and other parts of Mariupol.

The direct participation of the Secretary-General in negotiations also prepared the door for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, one of the few areas in which Russia and Ukraine have reached an accord.

Secretary-General António Guterres (left) meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Lviv, Ukraine.

The proposal arose in response to the steep rise in food and fertiliser prices worldwide: Russia and Ukraine are the primary exporters of these products to world markets, and the hostilities outbreak severely hampered their export capacity.

With the mediation of the United Nations and Turkey, as well as the personal participation of Mr. Guterres, a protocol was agreed upon to ensure the safe passage of ships transporting grain and other food goods across the Black Sea.

The agreement permitted the resumption of grain, other food goods, and fertiliser exports by Ukraine. Three vital Ukrainian ports, Chornomorsk, Odessa, and Yuzhne, send the goods through a safe maritime humanitarian corridor.

Since the deal was signed in July, around 21.9 million metric tonnes of grains and food products have been shipped, and the action is credited with helping to calm global food prices, which reached dizzying heights in March of 2022. Following the adoption of the Initiative, prices began to decline, and by March 2023, they had dropped almost 18% from their yearly peak.

Director-General of the IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi (second from left) and the IAEA expert mission team arrive at the Zaporizhya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.

Nuclear safety at risk

Russian troops quickly, after the invasion, seized the former Chornobyl nuclear power plant and the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Station (ZNPP).

In addition to Chornobyl, Ukraine is home to the Rivne, Khmelnytskyi, and South-Ukrainian nuclear power reactors. In March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed concern over the safe functioning of these facilities and announced plans to dispatch inspectors to all stations.

Director General of the IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi led a journey to Chornobyl. Then, while shelling continued in the area, he and his staff travelled to Zaporizhzhya, sending many international inspectors to monitor the situation.

Mr. Grossi warned the members of the Security Council that any damage to Zaporizhzhia – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – or any other nuclear facility in Ukraine could lead to a catastrophe, not only around the plant itself but throughout the broader region; the warnings evoked memories of the 1986 Chornobyl meltdown when radioactive fallout from the destroyed plant’s reactor spread as far as 500 kilometres from the site.

Currently, Zaporizhzhia is administered by Ukrainian personnel operating under the Russian administration. The IAEA inspectors stationed at the facility periodically report on the situation, and the IAEA director continues to lead negotiations on establishing a security zone around the facility.

Teams of IAEA nuclear safety and security specialists are also stationed at the other nuclear power stations (NPPs) in Ukraine and at the Chornobyl site. “With the presence of our experts at Ukraine’s nuclear power facilities and the Chernobyl site, we are intensifying and expanding our technical activities to help prevent a nuclear accident during the terrible and tragic conflict in Ukraine,” Director General Grossi said in January 2023, after the IAEA flag was hoisted at the Rivne Plant as a sign of the Agency’s presence.

A humanitarian calamity

Since the commencement of the war, workers from several UN agencies have collaborated with hundreds of humanitarian partners, most of whom are on the front lines, to alleviate the consequent humanitarian calamity.

Over a third of the world’s population, or around 16 million individuals, have received lifesaving and life-sustaining humanitarian aid due to relief operations. This has included financial transfers to nearly 6 million individuals and the delivery of food, water, medicine, hygiene kits, and winter necessities by thousands of convoys to war-ravaged villages and those who had evacuated to safer locations.

Throughout the winter, numerous Ukrainian towns were left powerless due to Russian attacks on vital infrastructure. The United Nations worked around the clock to bring generators to critical facilities across the country, primarily hospitals and shelters, to ensure that essential services could continue and that people would be protected from the winter cold. In addition to providing materials and conducting repairs, the United Nations enabled people whose homes had been damaged to live with dignity.

According to Johannes Fromholt of the UN Migration Agency (IOM), who recently spoke to UN News from Kurakhove, a town near the frontline in Donetsk Oblast, some communities are forced to deal with the destruction of their way of life and the towns where they used to reside one year into the conflict.

“We are witnessing brutal combat that has worsened over the previous week. Some towns in this region are 80 to 90 percent ruined, while others are even more devastated. You may say that they no longer exist. Even on the route to Kurakhove, a nearby city was struck by a missile, killing three and injuring twelve.

Millions of Ukrainians were compelled to abandon their residences. Many have become internal migrants, and millions are dispersed across Europe. Workers of the UN agency for children (UNICEF), the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR), and other UN organisations assist with registering, settling, and protecting refugees at checkpoints and in host nations.

After 2022, the UN refugee agency UNHCR appealed for urgent aid for displaced families facing a harsh winter.

Calls for billions in assistance

Without the donors’ great help, no humanitarian work would have been possible. Most of the $3.8 billion raised for Ukraine in 2022 was channelled directly through the hundreds of organisations participating in our Humanitarian Flash Appeal. On the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, the Organization allocated $20 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), and less than a month later, another $40 million was sent to Ukraine.

The United Nations is seeking $5.6 billion for Ukraine in 2023: $3.6 billion to provide humanitarian aid to over 11 million people out of nearly 18 million in need, and $1.7 billion to assist Ukrainian refugees in 10 host countries: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, and Slovakia.

Now, the efforts of UN system agencies are concentrated on providing warm shelters for displaced individuals, delivering aid to newly accessible areas, assisting with mine clearance, and giving humanitarian and psychological aid to all those in need.

With the aid of the United Nations, the Ukrainian government is establishing global warming stations where people can warm themselves, charge their phones, drink hot beverages, and receive first aid. In Ukraine, these centres are known as “points of invincibility,” where individuals keep warm and assist, support, and comfort one another.

Denise Brown, the senior UN official in Ukraine, told UN News on the war’s first anniversary that despite the risk of injury or death, UN employees continue to help the country’s devastated regions.

Investigating war crimes and violations of human rights

In the initial days of the invasion, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva created an Independent International Commission of Investigation to investigate allegations of human rights violations and abuses in Ukraine.

After conducting investigations in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy, its members concluded that war crimes were committed in these regions of Ukraine in February and March 2022, when they were under the control of Russian forces: city blocks were levelled, and civilians were executed, tortured, and raped. Victims of sexual rape ranged in age from 4 to 82 years old.

In March, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched its own investigation into crimes committed in Ukraine, sending a team of analysts, forensic scientists, anthropologists, and attorneys to the locations of mass atrocities.

Meanwhile, as part of Ukraine’s Genocide Convention claim against Russia, the International Court of Justice issued a judgement compelling Russia to immediately “cease the military operations it initiated on February 24, 2022 on the territory of Ukraine.”

“Military solutions cannot end this conflict”

Following a full year of war and with no end in sight, the General Assembly and Security Council convened in late February 2023, reiterating their earlier appeals for peace.

An emergency special session resumed in the General Assembly Hall to debate a new draught resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, demanding that Russia withdraw from Ukraine, and underscoring the need for accountability for severe crimes and justice for all victims.

“May this anniversary and the suffering of millions before our eyes over the past year serve as a reminder to all of us in this room that military solutions cannot end this war,” stated Assembly President Csaba Krosi. Too many lives, means of subsistence, families, and communities have been gone. Russia has the ability to cease its aggressiveness and the war it has sparked. Russia must cease this infernal bloodletting.”

Seven Member States, including Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, Russia, and Syria, voted against the resolution. China, India, and Pakistan accounted for three of the 32 abstentions.

On the anniversary date, 24 February 2023, a ministerial-level meeting was conducted in the Security Council, which had held forty deliberations on the conflict since its inception.

António Guterres called for immediate action in his address to the council, reminding ministers that “life in Ukraine is a living hell.”

The Secretary-General stated, “The weapons are talking now, but we all know that the path of diplomacy and accountability is the path to a just and sustainable peace, by the UN Charter and international law.”

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