Ukrainian civilians facing test of survival: UN

UN humanitarian chief tells Security Council Russian attacks on infrastructure have created ‘new level of need’ for beleaguered civilians.

Two men illuminated by lights from a shop on an otherwise dark street in Kyiv
Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure have brought its power grid close to collapse [Dimitar Dilkoff/ AFP]

The United Nations humanitarian chief says Russia’s “sustained” attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, as temperatures fall below freezing, has created a “new level of need” in a war he has called “senseless”.

Martin Griffiths, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, detailed to the UN Security Council on Tuesday the toll of “widespread death, displacement and suffering” since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

He said the situation has been exacerbated by Moscow’s recent attacks on crucial utility infrastructure, which has left millions without access to heat, electricity and water and added “another dangerous dimension to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war”.

More than 14 million people have now been forcibly displaced from their homes in Ukraine, including 7.8 million who have sought refuge elsewhere in Europe, Griffiths told the council.

A total of 17,023 civilians have been killed, including 419 children as of December 1, he added, citing data from the UN human rights office and warning “the real toll is far greater”.

Ukrainians take shelter from Russian missile attacks in an underground passageway. They are dressed in thick coats and hats and three are seated on benches while one is standing
Civilians take shelter during an air raid alert in Kyiv on December 5. The UN humanitarian chief says Ukrainians’ ‘ability to survive’ is under attack [File: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP]

There have been at least 715 attacks on healthcare facilities.

“As a result of the attacks on civilian infrastructure, people are being deprived of health care and children deprived of education. In Ukraine today, the ability of civilians to survive is under attack,” Griffiths said.

The UN Security Council has met dozens of times on Ukraine since February but has been unable to take action in any meaningful way. Russia is one of five members on the 15-member body with veto power – along with China, France, the United Kingdom and United States.

‘Trying to break Ukraine’s will’

On Tuesday, some diplomats urged peace talks.

“Given the disarray and despair of the population already weakened by months of war, it is not enough to have more and more meetings to inform the international community without ever offering a genuine alternative to war,” Gabon’s Deputy UN Ambassador Edwige Koumby Missambo told the meeting.

“The time has come to negotiate the end of the war,” she said.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzya spoke of Moscow’s “willingness” to start negotiations but only if the “root causes” that led to its invasion were addressed.

(Al Jazeera)

Moscow initially said its mission was to “disarm” Ukraine so it could not be a threat to Russia but Kyiv and its allies believe Russia’s true intention is to overthrow Ukraine’s pro-European government.

“Ukraine needs peace and Ukraine wants peace. More than any other country. It is our territory that has been invaded,” said Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya.

“Please keep this in mind every time Moscow attempts to … persuade us that it is not the aggressor, but the victim who resists peace efforts.”

Russia has been rattled this week by drone attacks that have hit three air bases inside its borders, with President Vladimir Putin convening his security council in the wake of the attacks.

Kyiv has not directly claimed responsibility for the attacks nor has it criticised the action, which killed three people and damaged long-range bombers and a fuel depot, according to reports from Russia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters the US had “neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia”.

Washington has provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in military equipment since the war began and legislators on Tuesday agreed to at least $800 million in additional security assistance in 2023.

“Everything we are doing, everything the world is doing to support Ukraine is in support of Ukraine’s independence, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price told a briefing.

At the UN Security Council, Nebenzya claimed such weapons shipments meant Western countries were in a diplomatic settlement in Ukraine. He framed the conflict as an “ongoing war of the West against Russia”.

A view of the UN Security Council as diplomats from the 15 member countries discuss the humanitarian situation in Ukraine
The Security Council has met numerous times on the situation in Ukraine but has been unable to take meaningful action [Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo]

In turn, the US’s Deputy UN Ambassador Lisa Carty said the “escalating barrages on Ukraine’s infrastructure” were evidence Putin had “no genuine interest in negotiation or meaningful diplomacy”.

Officials in Kyiv have warned that Moscow’s latest missile attacks, which took place just as damaged plants had been repaired, would mean millions of people would again face emergency blackouts.

“He (Putin) is trying to break Ukraine’s will to fight by bombing and freezing its civilians into submission,” Carty said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies