Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Ukraine by Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo
Thank you, Madam President,
I last briefed this Council on the situation in Ukraine nearly one year ago, on 18 February 2020.
At that time, I and many in this Council expressed cautious optimism about the renewed peace efforts in Eastern Ukraine following the 9 December 2019 Normandy Format Summit.
The conclusions the leaders of France, Germany, the Russian Federation and Ukraine endorsed in Paris outlined a series of steps to stabilize the situation on the ground, including through confidence-building measures and a sustained ceasefire.
The leaders also agreed to support efforts, both in the Normandy Four and the Trilateral Contact Group, to make progress on the key security and political provisions of the Minsk agreements.
The Trilateral Contact Group agreed to an indefinite ceasefire that came into force on 27 July 2020. The Secretary-General welcomed this development, which was consistent with his earlier appeal for a global ceasefire.
Since then, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has reported a significant decrease in civilian casualties from exchange of fire.
Another encouraging development is the release and exchange of conflict-related detainees.
These are welcome developments. But as we have seen in recent weeks, without progress on the related security and political tracks, the overall situation remains fragile.
Indeed, despite numerous pledges, the sides have made little significant progress on implementing the other agreed political and security provisions.
And, while there is relative calm, the humanitarian situation has not improved.
On the contrary, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the difficult socio-economic conditions of civilians in conflict-affected areas, including through the further tightening of already severe restrictions on freedom of movement across the contact line.
It has also worsened access-related issues for the UN, as well as shortages of medicine, equipment and medical personnel, particularly in non-government-controlled areas.
Over 3.4 million people are still in need of sustained humanitarian assistance. More than half of those in need are women, and 40 per cent are elderly.
The United Nations and our partners are particularly concerned about vulnerable groups living along the contact line.
Almost ten months after the contact line was closed to contain the spread of COVID-19, the conﬂict-affected population continues to pay a heavy price. Pensioners residing in areas beyond Government control and registered as internally displaced persons face worsened economic conditions and added health risks. Since March 2020, they have been unable to retrieve their government pensions.
Before the onset of COVID-19, people crossed the contact line an average of 1.2 million times each month, for social, health and other services and to maintain family ties.
Currently, only two of the five entry/exit crossing points have been partially reopened. As a result, the average monthly crossings have dropped to only 36,000.
In a positive development, two centers providing a wide range of services opened on the government-controlled side of the contact line, with more expected to open at all crossing points this year.
Despite the ceasefire, periodic shelling and small-arms fire continue to damage or destroy homes, hospitals, schools, roads, and water systems. In 2020, around 60 incidents affected the supply of clean water and sanitation in eastern Ukraine. Mines and unexploded ordinances continue to claim lives.
Humanitarian access remains a significant challenge for the UN and other international humanitarian actors operating across the contact line.
On the government-controlled side, reinstating expedited procedures for clearance of imported COVID-19 related humanitarian supplies is critical.
In non-government-controlled areas, humanitarian access has been limited since 2015 and has been severely restricted since the advent of COVID-19.
The UN Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator and the team on the ground are working to resolve these issues to enable effective delivery of humanitarian assistance to the those in need.
We urge all actors with influence to help lift undue restrictions on freedom of movement across the contact line and secure the opening of additional exit and entry crossing points.
More than 120 humanitarian partners aim to assist 1.9 million people under the new Humanitarian Response Plan, which prioritizes life-saving assistance, basic services and protection needs.
The United Nations seeks US$168 million to provide help to all areas in need.
The UN is actively engaged in a range of other critical areas through the work of the UN Country Team on the ground.
This includes providing medicine, personal protective equipment (PPE), and sharing expertise with medical professionals dealing with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. Later this month Ukraine should receive the first delivery of vaccines from the COVAX facility.
Further, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine continues its critical protection, monitoring, reporting and advocacy work on both sides of the contact line.
The UN is also working with women and youth civil society leaders engaged in local peace and dialogue initiatives to promote national unity.
Critical work with more than a million people internally displaced as a result of the conflict also continues. This is particularly important in light of the increased socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable.
Guided by the Ukraine-UN Partnership Framework for 2018-2022 and the sustainable peace and development agenda, the UN in Ukraine will continue to support efforts to strengthen social cohesion and recovery with focus on Eastern Ukraine.
Until a sustainable political solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine is found, the situation on the ground will remain fragile.
The fact that the ceasefire has largely held up and that discussions continue in the established formats is no reason for complacency. Nor is it a substitute for meaningful progress. The risk of backsliding is real if negotiations become deadlocked.
We, therefore, are deeply concerned by the increase in security incidents in several hotspots along the contact line in recent months. This dangerous trend needs to be quickly reversed.
On 17 February 2015, this Council endorsed, in resolution 2202, the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”.
As we have said before, the “Package of Measures”, together with the “Minsk Protocol” and the “Minsk Memorandum”, remain the only agreed framework for a negotiated, peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The Secretary-General has consistently expressed the strong backing of the United Nations for the lead role of the Normandy Four and the OSCE-facilitated Trilateral Contact Group in finding a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Today, I reiterate our support for these mechanisms.
The Council will hear shortly from the Special Representative of the OSCE’s Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine, Ambassador Heidi Grau, on the latest discussions in the Trilateral Contact Group, as well as from the Chief Monitor of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission, Ambassador Halit Cevik, on the overall security situation on the ground. It is essential that we support their crtitical efforts.
Importantly, the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission should have safe and secure access throughout Ukraine in order to fully implement its mandate.
Ukraine will mark this year the 30th anniversary of its independence. We reiterate our full support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
As the Secretary-General has consistently affirmed, the United Nations stands with the people of Ukraine in their search for sustainable peace.
Thank you, Madam President.