Distinguished members of the Council,
The conflict in Ukraine will soon enter its fourth year. Since the Department of Political Affairs last briefed the Council on the situation in eastern Ukraine on 28 April 2016, fighting has continued unabated, with only short periods of respite.
Almost 10,000 people have been killed (Ukrainian armed forces, civilians and members of armed groups), and over 23,000 injured since the beginning of the conflict, according to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU). Over 2,000 of those killed were civilians.
Since 7 January this year, and in particular over the last few days, we have seen a dangerous intensification of the conflict. On 1 February, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission reported over 10,000 explosions in the Donetsk region over 24 hours, the highest number of violations yet recorded by the Mission. While the most serious clashes in the last few days have predominantly hit the Avdiivka – Yasynuvata– Donetsk airport area, heavy fighting has also been reported near Mariupol, Popasna and the Svitlodarsk/Debaltseve areas, both in government-controlled and non-government controlled territory. The entire length of the Contact Line has seen a serious escalation of hostilities, and there is still a risk of further deterioration of the situation. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has also registered frequent use of heavy weapons proscribed by the Minsk Agreements, such as multiple-launch-rocket systems, including in the areas designated for disengagement as per the 21 September 2016 Agreement on Disengagement of Forces and Hardware. There are reports of civilian casualties, including at least four deaths since the escalation on 28 January, and heavy losses among the combatants on both sides. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission also recorded damage to civilian houses and a school in populated areas of Avdiivka, which raises serious concerns about possible violations of international humanitarian law by all sides.
There are now reports of clashes that are directly endangering civilian crossing points, residential areas and critical civilian infrastructure, such as water purification plants and delivery systems, power lines and heating supply lines. Ensuring the urgent disengagement of forces at all checkpoints across the contact line would greatly improve the security of the population in conflict affected areas, where more than 20.000 people cross the contact line daily. Hundreds of thousands of civilians on both sides of the contact line are still at risk of losing all access to water, heating and electricity, bringing the spectre of further displacements closer. This is particularly worrying, given the frigid winter temperatures in the region at present.
There are also real threats of serious environmental disasters should major chemical waste storage locations in the area be shelled. As of yesterday, thousands of inhabitants in Avdiivka, including children, were reportedly at risk of being evacuated. Combatants must stop the shelling in cities such as Avdiivka, on both sides of the contact line, and allow for the restoration of basic services. The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs will shortly provide further updates on the humanitarian situation on the ground.
We welcome the prompt statement of the Security Council on 31 January concerning the deterioration of the situation in Donetsk region. The Secretary-General has expressed deep concern about the high level of military readiness and the recent intensification of fighting, which is having an increasingly serious impact on the civilian population in the conflict zones. He has called on all parties to immediately halt all hostilities, fully observe the ceasefire, allow immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to the affected population, facilitate full and safe access to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to report on the situation on the ground, and renew serious efforts towards the peaceful settlement of the conflict. He particularly underlines the imperative for all sides to take all measures to protect civilians. The sides should refrain from any action that may be seen as provocative or escalates tensions.
The hostilities in Avdiivka-Yasynuvata-Donetsk airport area increased in intensity in a few days to levels never recorded before in this area by the OSCE SMM. This escalation demonstrates how precarious the situation remains and how suddenly and abruptly the security situation can deteriorate. The statement agreed at the meeting yesterday in Minsk of the Trilateral Contact Group and the Representative from certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions lays down the urgent measures the sides should take not only in this area, but along the entire contact line in order to prevent further ceasefire violations that could in turn spiral out of control.
This is a positive development, but the test will be in the implementation of the measures. The pattern of successive ceasefire agreements broken by fresh violence has left civilians caught in the crossfire and trapped in suffering. With every new day of fighting, the conflict becomes more entrenched and difficult to resolve. There is no military solution to this conflict.
Despite the commendable efforts of the Trilateral Contact Group and the Normandy Four, the recent intensification of the conflict coincides with a period of relative stagnation in the diplomatic processes designed to find a peaceful solution and ensure the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. The international community must remain constructively and actively engaged, however, if we are to prevent this crisis becoming a catastrophe. In this regard, there is a pressing need to revitalise the negotiation process without delay.
The United Nations continues to strongly support the efforts in the Normandy Four and Trilateral Contact Group frameworks and of the OSCE Chairmanship in Ukraine. We commend the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, who are carrying out essential work under extremely difficult circumstances in the conflict areas. The United Nations calls on both sides to lift all restrictions on the OSCE SMM’s freedom of movement and to immediately end all use of force and threats against the Mission’s monitors . We welcome the visits of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz to Ukraine and the Russian Federation in January and hope that his engagements, along with other ongoing efforts, will bear fruit. The United Nations stands ready to support these efforts. I look forward to hearing shortly from Ambassador Apakan, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, regarding his assessment of the latest developments the ground.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It has been almost two years since the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements” was signed on 12 February in Minsk, which was in turn endorsed by the Security Council in Resolution 2202 on 17 February 2015. This remains the foundation through which we, the international community, have committed ourselves to engage in the search for lasting peace in eastern Ukraine. I urge you all to continue such efforts with renewed vigor.
Mr. President, distinguished members of the Council,
In accordance with relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, the United Nations remains committed to supporting a peaceful resolution of the conflict, in a manner that fully upholds the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine. The United Nations priority remains to support the peace efforts in Ukraine led by the OSCE and ensure the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. The parties themselves, however, have the main responsibility to work constructively towards this end.
Thank you, Mr. President.