Thank you, Mr. President,
Your excellencies Minister Czaputowicz, Minister Blok and Minister Klimkin,
Members of the Council,
The conflict in eastern Ukraine is now in its fifth year. It may no longer make major international headlines, but it is neither dormant nor frozen. It is very much alive, and it requires our attention, particularly to alleviate the human cost of the conflict.
Repeated pledges to respect the cease-fire have not stopped the fighting; far from it. While there has been an overall reduction of violence and casualties since 2015, the killing, destruction and immense suffering continues. The civilian death toll of the conflict is over 2,700 according to OHCHR with up to 9,000 injured. An estimated 1.6 million people remain internally displaced – the largest uprooted population in Europe and among the ten largest in the world.
Today’s Council meeting is the first on the situation in Ukraine since 2 February 2017, when an upsurge in violence threatened to spiral out of control. In the intervening period, diplomatic talks have continued – in the Normandy Format, in the Trilateral Contact Group, and through bilateral processes.
Despite these commendable efforts, the security situation on the ground remains volatile, with the continued use of weapons proscribed by the Minsk Agreements. The relative calm that held in the early weeks of 2018 was followed in April and May by a sharp increase in the number of victims caused by shelling, small arms fire, mines and unexploded ordinance.
The United Nations is deeply concerned about the recent deterioration of the situation at the contact line, including in the area around the Donetsk Filtration Station. We join the calls by OSCE Chief Monitor Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan on 18 May and by the Special Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine Ambassador Martin Sajdik on 22 May for an immediate cessation of fighting.
The violence puts civilian lives at risk and causes destruction of infrastructure, on which people depend for their basic needs on both sides of the contact line.
In light of recent reports of increased military preparedness along the contact line, we highlight the need for utmost restraint.
On 17 February 2015, this Council adopted resolution 2202 endorsing the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”. The Council called on all parties to fully implement the Package of Measures, including a comprehensive ceasefire. The Minsk Agreements remain the foundation for the international community’s commitment to restoring peace in eastern Ukraine.
Yet, over three years since the adoption of resolution 2202, the Minsk provisions remain largely unimplemented. Negotiations appear to have lost momentum, with the main stakeholders unable to reach agreement on key steps. Except for the exchange of detainees during the Christmas period last year – efforts to move the talks forward have achieved little so far.
Practical solutions are often identified, but not followed through.
Meanwhile, discussions on a potential international peace operation have so far been inconclusive.
The United Nations continues to provide humanitarian assistance, human rights monitoring and development support, including in the framework of Ukraine’s reform efforts. But the scale and urgency of needs stemming from the conflict remain immense. There are over half a million civilians living within five kilometres of the Line of Contact, subjected night and day to shelling, gunfire, landmines and unexploded ordnance. Children miss out on vital education. Health problems are worsening, with an increase in cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
The area around the Line of Contact is now the third most mine-contaminated area in the world. Residential areas, as well as critical infrastructure, are frequently shelled, deliberately or accidentally.
We call on all concerned to take the necessary measures to protect civilians and to uphold international human rights obligations.
The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine continues to report on human rights violations and abuses carried out on both sides of the contact line. In accordance with relevant General Assembly resolutions, monitoring of the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol is being carried out, but with great difficulty due to lack of access.
As a consequence of the conflict, eastern Ukraine is facing a serious humanitarian crisis. Restrictions and impediments on international humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas continue to limit aid delivery to those in need. With 3.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in conflict-affected areas, we urge all to facilitate humanitarian access, and encourage Member States to do more to support efforts to address this crisis.
Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ms. Ursula Mueller, will shortly report further on the humanitarian situation.
The conflict has also had a tragic impact on families from other nations. We are all aware of the recent update of the investigation into the MH17 downing. The Security Council in its resolution 2166 (2014) demanded that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability. As the Secretary-General has expressed, establishing the truth about this event is an important part of achieving justice for the victims and their families.
The United Nations strongly supports the lead efforts on Ukraine of the Normandy Four, the Trilateral Contact Group, the OSCE and other key actors. The work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, which provides regular reporting on security incidents and which facilitates localized ceasefires and critical repair works in the conflict area, takes place under extremely difficult circumstances.
The OSCE Mission suffered its first fatality in April of last year. The United Nations calls for full respect for the OSCE Mission’s freedom of movement and for an immediate end to all use of force and threats against the Mission’s monitors.
I look forward to hearing an update from the Chief Monitor of the Mission, Ambassador Apakan.
The Secretary-General travelled to Kiev early in his tenure to highlight the UN’s serious concern regarding the situation in Ukraine and the plight of the people affected by the conflict. The visit in July 2017 demonstrated support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, in accordance with relevant General Assembly resolutions.
The Secretary-General has consistently called for a demonstration of necessary political will to cease hostilities and to end the suffering of the civilian population – a call he reiterated in his statement of 23 December 2017, on the eve of the so-called Christmas ceasefire.
In his New Year message to the General Assembly this year, the Secretary-General also called for revitalizing relevant mediation initiatives in Europe, including the Normandy Format and the Trilateral Contact Group in Ukraine.
We hope the intensification of diplomatic engagements in recent weeks will generate the necessary political impetus for progress in implementing the Minsk Agreements and improving the prospects for a settlement of the conflict.
To overcome the status quo, it is imperative to inject efforts with new political energy.
The Ukraine conflict is foremost a tragedy for the Ukrainian people. But it also takes place in a context of increasing challenges to the international peace and security framework. The conflict continues to test the credibility of international and regional organizations and erodes the trust Member States need to work together in the interest of Europe’s stability.
Despite the efforts to reach a settlement, a breakthrough remains elusive. Yet we cannot allow ourselves to give in to fatigue or complacency. We must continue to pursue peace with renewed vigour and see the implementation of resolution 2202 (2015). In this regard, we once again support the lead efforts of the OSCE and the Normandy format.
For its part, the United Nations remains committed to supporting the search for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, in a manner fully upholding Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence and in accordance with all relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.