“Gray of hope” in Ukraine according to the head of the ICRC

ICRC President Peter Maurer, visiting Ukraine this week, on Thursday called on warring parties to alleviate the suffering of civilians, hailing a “glimmer of hope” after evacuations this week.

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“I am in Kyiv this week to make an urgent appeal to the parties to this conflict. They are the ones who can act now to bring real respite to civilians and people who are no longer taking part in the fighting,” said Swiss Peter Maurer during an online press conference.

He also said that the 30 to 40 ICRC staff who were still in Mariupol with their families – before the Russian invasion – were able to leave the city on Wednesday, which is besieged by Russian forces.

But the organization wants to send a new team there as well as humanitarian assistance as soon as the situation allows.

“The suffering in Mariupol must not become the future of Ukraine,” he insisted.

During his visit to Ukraine, Peter Maurer notably met Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and various ministers.

The scale of the devastation is “tremendous” in Ukraine, Maurer told reporters.

But he welcomed the evacuation this week by the ICRC and the Ukrainian Red Cross of “thousands of people” from Sumy, a city in northeastern Ukraine, calling the operation a “glimmer of hope”.

“This glimpse of humanity is something we badly need. But it saddens me that children are getting on buses to the unknown instead of getting on buses to go to their schools,” Maurer said.

The humanitarian official also showed a certain optimism as to the chances of success of the evacuations of civilians, contrary to what happened in certain cases in Syria, where these operations were sometimes instrumentalised.

“I am a little more confident that the situation will be more favorable in Ukraine than in other contexts, once the parties agree and make progress in the talks and on the issue of corridors,” he said.

“As you have seen over the past few days…it was agreed that the civilians would have a choice of which direction to go. This is a very positive development compared to other contexts where they had no choice,” he noted.

Peter Maurer called on “the parties to seize every opportunity (…) to alleviate the suffering”. In particular, he called for the establishment of “concrete agreements” – the details of which must be settled in advance and shared – to allow the evacuation of civilians from areas plagued by violence.

He also called on the parties to treat prisoners of war “with dignity” and to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, to guarantee the protection of civilians, wherever they are.

“Civilians affected by the conflict in Ukraine are terrified of what the future holds. Families huddle in unheated basements, knowing that their neighborhoods are now front lines. Women and children are walking in the cold looking for shelter,” Maurer said.

In Kyiv, he said, residents hiding there mostly still have access to running water, electricity and medical care, but “in too many cities, families are trapped and struggle to find water and food to survive.


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