Morning Chronicle - Protect Ukraine civilians 'for God's sake', pleads UN aid chief

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Protect Ukraine civilians 'for God's sake', pleads UN aid chief
Protect Ukraine civilians 'for God's sake', pleads UN aid chief

Protect Ukraine civilians 'for God's sake', pleads UN aid chief

The United Nations' aid chief pleaded Thursday for the protection of civilians in Ukraine and for unhindered humanitarian access amid the spiralling violence, in an interview with AFP.

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UN emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths said he had the resources ready to go, following a flash appeal for funds, but that the warring forces needed to allow the delivery of urgent aid.

"Protect civilians, for God's sake, in Ukraine; let us do our job", Griffiths said.

He launched an appeal on Tuesday for $1.7 billion -- of which, he said, a "remarkable" $1.5 billion had already been received.

"We have the resources to do the job. Now we need the parties to allow us in to do that, and to adhere to their responsibilities under international humanitarian law," the British diplomat told AFP.

As Griffiths made his call, Ukraine demanded Thursday that Russia provide humanitarian corridors to allow in much-needed supplies to cities wracked by war, as Moscow's full-scale invasion entered a second week.

Griffiths voiced concern that the fighting was intensifying, with Russian forces closing in on Ukraine's major cities.

And while more than a million refugees who have fled across Ukraine's borders are being met with an unprecedented wave of solidarity in neighbouring countries, those who remain are in urgent need of assistance.

Of the $1.7 billion requested, $1.1 billion is earmarked for people inside Ukraine, in need of food, water and sanitation, support for health care and education services, and shelter assistance to rebuild damaged homes.

- Need for guarantees -

The UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs said that during the conflict there had been "probable breaches of international humanitarian law, because there are attacks on civilian infrastructure, which is prohibited".

Furthermore, "there is a difficulty of movements of humanitarian workers to provide assistance, which is prohibited by international humanitarian law".

Griffiths echoed the call of UN chief Antonio Guterres for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

While his teams have remained in Ukraine, they have been repositioned to safer areas.

And though they are used to operating amidst wars and violence, "we need protection for the safe passage of our workers", he said.

Griffiths said his teams had been talking to Ukraine and Russia since the start of the invasion, in order to ensure that humanitarian aid movements can take place in safety.

"Both sides have talked about those guarantees, and that's very welcome," he said.

"But assurance is one thing. What we need is a system.

"It's a very simple operation: that we need to tell both parties where a convoy needs to move, on what route, at what time, with what supplies, with how many people, to go from A to B to deliver assistance," he said.

- Stand, and deliver -

For Griffiths, the old humanitarian adage "staying and delivering" is as relevant as ever.

"We are moving in supplies, now, today, from neighbouring countries -- Poland, in particular -- into western Ukraine and beyond," he said.

"We're setting up a set of humanitarian hubs around the country, focused on where we think the conflict will be greatest and where the need will therefore be great."

With the fighting increasingly concentrated in urban areas, civilian infrastructure, such as the electricity and water supplies, are expected to be badly affected.

Griffiths said that more than 100,000 people were already without heating in the capital Kyiv.

Mobile kitchens will be set up, while the UN's World Food Programme has already transported high-energy biscuits from Dubai to Poland, before they are eventually shipped to conflict zones.

Meanwhile the UN children's agency UNICEF will have teams working on child nutrition, water and sanitation.

The UN also intends to use the rail network, which for the time being remains operational, to transport its freight eastwards towards the front line and Kyiv.