'I'm not optimistic' about Ukraine ceasefire: UN aid chief

AP , Thursday 7 Apr 2022

The United Nations' humanitarian chief said Thursday he's not optimistic about securing a ceasefire to halt the fighting in Ukraine, following high-level talks in Moscow and Kyiv that underscored how far apart the two sides are.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths (C) walks in the streets of Bucha on April 7, 2022 during his three-hour visit in the city that included a stop at the site of a mass grave that Ukrainians had dug near a church, a day after he visited Moscow, where he met with officials to discuss the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, more than a month into the Russian invasion. AFP

Undersecretary-General Martin Griffiths gave the bleak assessment in an interview with The Associated Press in the Ukrainian capital after wrapping up talks with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and other top officials. That followed discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and officials in Moscow earlier in the week.

``I think it's not going to be easy because the two sides, as I know now ... have very little trust in each other,`` he said.

``I'm not optimistic,'' he added later.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres dispatched Griffiths to the Russian and Ukrainian capitals to explore the possibility of establishing a cease-fire that would allow desperately needed aid into Ukraine and potentially lay the groundwork for talks aimed at ending the war.

Griffiths suggested that goal remained far in the distance.

``Obviously, we all want that to happen. But as you know _ you're here _ that's not going to happen immediately,'' he said.

Short of a full ceasefire, Griffiths said he is seeking ways to build confidence on both sides and focus on smaller goals, such as establishing local ceasefires in parts of the country and creating humanitarian corridors that allow civilians to escape the fighting. Relief supplies have begun flowing to some harder to reach parts of the country, he noted.

``This war is not stopping tomorrow,'' he said. ``Where we are a little bit closer is to get the understanding of both sides ... of what a local ceasefire would affect. There are many parts of Ukraine where we can achieve tomorrow local ceasefires, which are defined in geography and time.''

Russian troops have withdrawn from parts of Ukraine, particularly around Kyiv, ahead of what many believe is an intensified push in the country's east.

Local ceasefires could still mean progress even in areas without ongoing fighting, Griffiths said, because they require that forces don't move and so therefore could not regroup elsewhere.

Aid groups have struggled to get supplies to those in need.

Over the past week, members of a Red Cross convoy were prevented from reaching the besieged city of Mariupol to help evacuate a convoy of civilians. They were detained at one point during their mission, and eventually ended up accompanying around 1,000 people who had found ways of their own out of Mariupol to a city further west.

An overwhelming majority of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly has twice called for an immediate end to the fighting in Ukraine, on March 2 and March 24.

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