New York

28 March 2022

Secretary-General’s press encounter – on the war in Ukraine

Ladies and gentlemen of the media, 

Good morning. It is a great pleasure to be with you again.

Today, I am announcing that in the exercise of my good offices, I have asked Martin Griffiths, the Coordinator of our humanitarian work worldwide, immediately to explore with the parties involved the possible agreements and arrangements for a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine. 

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion one month ago, the war has led to the senseless loss of thousands of lives; the displacement of ten million people, mainly women and children; the systematic destruction of essential infrastructure; and skyrocketing food and energy prices worldwide. 

This must stop. 

The United Nations is doing everything in its power to support people whose lives have been overturned by the war. 

In the past month, beyond their support to refugee hosting countries, our humanitarian agencies and their partners have reached nearly 900,000 people, mainly in eastern Ukraine, with food, shelter, blankets, medicine, bottled water, and hygiene supplies. 

There are now more than 1,000 United Nations personnel in the country, working via eight humanitarian hubs in Dnipro, Vinnytsia, Lviv, Uzhorod, Chernivitzi, Mukachevo, Luhansk and Donetsk. 

The World Food Programme and partners reached 800,000 people in the past month and are scaling up to reach 1.2 million people by mid-April.  

The World Health Organisation and partners have reached more than half a million people in the most vulnerable areas with emergency health, trauma and surgery kits. 

Just today a convoy of trucks brought food, medical and other relief supplies from WFP, WHO, UNHCR, UNICEF to Kharkiv, to be delivered by our national partners to thousands of people in hard-hit areas. 

Our agencies and partners are procuring vital supplies and setting up pipelines for delivery throughout Ukraine in the coming weeks. 

But let’s be clear. The solution to this humanitarian tragedy is not humanitarian. It is political. 

I am therefore appealing for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, to allow for progress in serious political negotiations, [aimed] at reaching a peace agreement based on the principles of the United Nations Charter.

A cessation of hostilities will allow essential humanitarian aid to be delivered and enable civilians to move around safely. It will save lives, prevent suffering, and protect civilians. 

I hope a ceasefire will also help to address the global consequences of this war, which risk compounding the deep hunger crisis in many developing countries that already lack fiscal space to invest in their recovery from the pandemic, and now face soaring food and energy costs. 

I strongly appeal to the parties to this conflict, and to the international community as a whole, to work with us for peace in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and across the world. 

Thank you. 

Spokesman:  Edie Lederer, Associated Press.

Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General. Can you expand a bit on what Mr. Griffiths is being asked to do? And is he going to go to the region? Is he going to try and meet with senior leaders, both in Moscow and in Ukraine? And how quickly is he going to basically start this peace effort?

Secretary-General:  Well, he will immediately start. He's in Kabul today and he will be coming back, and he already made some contacts. And, of course, I hope that he will be able to go to both Moscow and Kyiv as soon as that becomes possible. It's very important to establish a serious dialogue with both parties in relation to the possibility of this humanitarian ceasefire.

Question:  [Off mic] And you mentioned the possible appeal to the rest of the world. Are you asking the European Union, other regional organizations...?

Secretary-General:  No, I've been in close contact with several countries that have been talking to the parties at the highest level in order to explore the different forms of mediation leading to a political solution. I've been in very close contact with our Turkish friends, with Qatar, with Israel, with India, China but also France, Germany. And it is my belief that all these efforts are essential in order to create the conditions to allow for, finally, this war to come to an end.

Question:  [Off mic] And are all those countries supporting your... this effort?

Secretary-General:  I hope so.

Spokesman:  Alan Bulkaty, RIA Novosti.

Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General. You mentioned... you're calling for the immediate ceasefire in your intervention. As far as you remember, the draft resolution considered last week by the Security Council contained the provisions about the negotiated ceasefire, but the Security Council failed to adopt it. Do you consider it as a mistake?

And the second question, please: What are your expectations of tomorrow's humanitarian meeting by the Security Council on Ukraine?

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, the Security Council decides whatever the Security Council decides, but that doesn't mean that anyone in the Security Council is against a negotiated ceasefire, as you mentioned. So, I strongly hope that there will be goodwill from all sides in order for this ceasefire to take place.

And I believe the briefing tomorrow will be a humanitarian briefing about the humanitarian situation, as far as I know. There will be elements of our humanitarian agencies that will be briefing the Security Council.

Spokesman:  Sherwin Bryce Pease.

Question:  Secretary-General, Russian leaders at the highest levels continue to assert their right to use nuclear weapons if and when a scenario is required for such a move. We are also seeing reports of nuclear facilities in Ukraine being targeted by strikes. Are you concerned that we are now on the cusp of either a biological conflict here or a nuclear war?

Secretary-General:  Well, I was, this morning, in contact with Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and there will be a number of very important initiatives by IAEA in the next few days in order to guarantee the security of the nuclear facilities inside Ukraine.

And I know that there is a very close contact of Rafael Grossi to both the Russian and the Ukrainian authorities on this, and he has my full support in the initiatives that he will take in the next few days.

On the other hand, I can't imagine the possibility of having a nuclear, a biological or a chemical war in this scenario. That will be... [Cross talk]

Question:  [Off mic, inaudible] it's also an unimaginable conflict in the first place, Secretary-General.

Secretary-General:  That would be something that I believe will be avoided. It must be avoided.

Spokesman:  Pam Falk.

Question:  Thank you. It's Pamela Falk from CBS News, Secretary-General. Is there any reason you have to believe that a ceasefire is actually being agreed to by the two sides, by Russia in particular? And is there any way the UN can enforce that if a ceasefire comes into play? Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, as a matter of fact, I've been hearing in different positions taken by both the Ukrainians and the Russian Federation, in the motion that was presented to the Security Council, reference to ceasefire. So, I think this is the moment in which I believe it makes sense for the UN to assume the initiative.

And, of course, it depends on the will of the parties, when a ceasefire is established, to define the arrangements necessary to make the ceasefire persist.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.

Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, do you have a comment on what President [Joseph] Biden said on President [Vladimir] Putin, that he cannot remain in power?

Secretary-General:  I think we need de-escalation, we need military de-escalation and rhetoric de-escalation.