U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed Tuesday for a four-day humanitarian pause this week to coincide with Orthodox Easter, as Russia’s war in Ukraine entered a dangerous new phase.
“The onslaught and terrible toll on civilians we have seen so far could pale in comparison to the horror that lies ahead,” he said of the Russian offensive on eastern Ukraine. “This cannot be allowed to happen. Hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance.”
Guterres called for a pause in fighting to begin on April 21 – which is Holy Thursday in the Orthodox Christian calendar – through April 24, when they celebrate Easter. Both Ukrainians and Russians celebrate Easter during this period.
The U.N. chief spoke to reporters in front of The Knotted Gun sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd. The bronze statue depicts an oversized .357 Magnum revolver with its muzzle tied in a knot and is dedicated to a non-violent world.
Guterres said the brief pause would allow for the opening of a series of humanitarian corridors for civilians who want to leave hostile areas to do so with the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and it would also allow aid supplies in for people living in hard hit areas, including Mariupol, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk.
“The United Nations is ready to send humanitarian aid convoys during this period to these locations. We are submitting detailed plans to the parties,” but he did not say if the parties, particularly Russia, had signaled a willingness to implement such a temporary truce.
“For all these life-or-death reasons, I call on Russians and Ukrainians to silence the guns and forge a path to safety for so many at immediate risk,” the secretary-general said. “The four-day Easter period should be a moment to unite around saving lives and furthering dialogue to end the suffering in Ukraine.”
Guterres’ humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, had been due to fly to Turkey Tuesday to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior officials to try to push through local cease-fires. Griffiths had to abruptly cancel his trip late Monday when he tested positive for COVID-19.
The United Nations says 12 million Ukrainians need humanitarian assistance due to Russia’s invasion and war. More than one-third of those most in need are in the besieged cities of Mariupol, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk. The U.N. chief said they anticipate the number of people requiring assistance to rise to 15.7 million — about 40% of all Ukrainians left in the country.