UN appeals for $1.7 billion in humanitarian aid for Ukraine, neighboring countries

UN calls on combatants to spare Ukraine civilians as conflict intensifies

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UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations has launched an emergency appeal for $1.7 billion in humanitarian aid for those affected by Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine.

“United Nations agencies and our partners are now working 24-7 to assess humanitarian needs and scale up aid, particularly to women, children, older people and those with disabilities,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, before thanking Member States that have kept their borders open to people fleeing the violence.

“We must help Ukrainians, help each other through this terrible time,” the UN chief said Tuesday, adding that electricity and water supplies have been disrupted, roads have been “damaged or destroyed by bombs” and food and medicine were in short supply in some areas.

In Geneva, UN emergency relief chief Martin Griffiths, said, “This is the darkest hour for the people of Ukraine.”

He saidd, “We need to ramp up our response now to protect the lives and dignity of ordinary Ukrainians. We must respond with compassion and solidarity.”

The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, says that more than 660,000 refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its unprovoked attack on February 24, while around one million more are estimated to have been internally displaced as fighting rages in many areas across the country.

Moreover, the UN said it estimates that 12 million people inside Ukraine will need relief and protection, while more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees may need protection and assistance in neighbouring countries in the coming months.

“We are looking at what could become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said.

“While we have seen tremendous solidarity and hospitality from neighboring countries in receiving refugees, including from local communities and private citizens, much more support will be needed to assist and protect new arrivals.”

Under the appeal, the UNHCR is seeking $1.1 billion to assist 6 million people inside Ukraine for an initial three months.

An interagency refugee response plan calls for at least $550.6 million to help refugees in Poland, Moldova, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and other countries in the region that are taking in thousands of refugees from Ukraine each day. UN humanitarian officials Tuesday appealed for the protection of civilians from further bloodshed amid fighting in Ukraine since the start of last week’s Russian military offensive that has driven out over 600,000 people from the country.

“We know that children have been killed, we know that thousands and thousands are at risk, and we know that more children, gut wrenchingly, are going to die or be injured in this unless fighting ends,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson James Elder said.

Speaking over his mobile phone from western Ukraine, Elder said that the military escalation that has been reported across several Ukrainian cities would result in more children being separated from their families.

Exodus of families, students and migrants have been making their way westwards towards Poland, among other neighboring countries,

“We’re going to see more fathers handing children across to border guards in Poland,” he added.

Needs remain high within Ukraine, in areas most affected by the violence, the spokesman said, as widely relayed images showed what appeared to be a Russian military convoy approaching Kiev, stretching back some 60 kilometers.

“The essential aim is to expand that support across Ukraine, we need that support now because the conflict (has) got out of the east, we need that to be across the other major cities,” Elder said.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday it was launching a three-month emergency operation in Ukraine to provide food assistance for people fleeing the conflict.

The agency is scaling up to reach up to 3.1 million civilians through the use of cash-based transfers as well as in-kind food distributions if required.

WFP staff in the capital Kyiv say that food supplies are running low, with grocery store shelves almost empty. The agency plans to provide assistance through in-kind food distributions, multi-purpose cash, and food vouchers that can be used in selected shops.

The first shipments of 400 tons of immediate response rations are on their way from Turkey to the Romanian and Polish border crossings with Ukraine.

Some 200 tons are being sent to each location and are expected to arrive by end of week. This usually takes the form of ready-to-eat meals that do not require lots of preparation, including tinned foods and buckwheat.

“Right now, our support focuses on those people going to the border, getting support to Poland and Romania. We have trucks as we speak getting to the border in Poland and Romania with emergency healthcare, sanitation, education support and psychological support.”

The development came as the UN agency’s Executive Director, Catherine Russell, said that children had been killed and injured, citing reports that “hospitals, schools, water and sanitation facilities and orphanages had come under fire”, with explosive weapons being used in residential areas.

According to the UN migration agency (IOM) and UN refugee agency (UNHCR), well over 600,000 have already fled the deadly and deteriorating situation inside Ukraine.

“As you know the numbers are exponentially increasing, we have now over 660,000 refugees who have fled Ukraine in last six days alone,” said UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo.

“At this rate, the situation looks set to become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century and UNHCR is mobilizing resources to respond as quickly and as effectively as possible.”

Echoing that message, IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli, noted that there were also an estimated “470,000 third-country nationals in Ukraine”, including a large number of overseas students and migrants working in the country.

Many remain stranded inside Ukraine, although at least 6,000 third-country nationals have arrived in Moldova and Slovakia alone, Ms. Msehli said.

She noted that several States had requested the UN agency’s assistance to help with the return of their citizens to Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

“More than 50 Tunisian nationals who crossed into Moldova are being assisted by IOM to relocate to Romania before they return home through a charter flight, in coordination with relevant authorities,” Ms. Msehli added.

Highlighting concerns that hospitals, health workers and sick people have been targeted in the Russian “offensive”, the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized on the sanctity of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

“We are concerned about reports on attacks on health. We have received several unconfirmed reports of attacks on hospitals and health infrastructure, but only the attack on 24 February has been verified,” Christian Lindmeier, WHO spokesperson, said.

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