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United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths in Irpin, Ukraine on 7 April 2022.© UNOCHA/Saviano Abreu United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths in Irpin, Ukraine on 7 April 2022.

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The UN’s top humanitarian official has joined the call for an investigation into the killing of hundreds of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, following a visit to the city on Thursday. 

Martin Griffiths was in Bucha and in Irpin, both located outside the capital, Kyiv, accompanied by the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Olha Stefanishyna. 

Mass graves and destruction 

The relief chief described the visit as “horrifying”, said UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, speaking during his daily briefing in New York. 

“He saw a mass grave with bodies wrapped in plastic, dozens of apartment blocks and houses destroyed, and burned-out cars in the street,” said Mr. Dujarric. 

Recalling that the world is already deeply shocked by the images coming out of the area, Mr. Griffiths echoed the UN Secretary-General's call for an immediate, independent investigation to guarantee accountability. 

Graves of two victims in Bucha, Ukraine.
© ICRC Graves of two victims in Bucha, Ukraine.

Humanitarian pause needed 

From Bucha, Mr. Griffiths travelled to Kyiv, where he met with Prime Minster Denys Shmyhal and other senior officials, including the Defence Minister and the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs. 

He listened to their views and concerns, and also sought ideas for making progress with establishing a humanitarian pause, together with safe passage for aid deliveries and evacuations. 

Prior to visiting Ukraine, Mr. Griffiths was in Moscow where he had also discussed these topics with Government officials on Monday. 

The humanitarian affairs chief reaffirmed the UN’s core commitment to helping protect civilians and reaching all in need of aid, as quickly as possible. 

“He also said that, after its temporary relocation, the UN will reestablish its humanitarian presence and leadership in Kyiv, which Ukrainian authorities warmly welcomed,” Mr. Dujarric added. 

Scaling-up support 

UN agencies and humanitarian organizations have dramatically scaled up operations in Ukraine over the past six weeks.  Some 160 partners are now present in all 24 regions of the country, known as oblasts. 

Humanitarians have reached at least two million people with assistance, and convoys have been mobilized to reach thousands in some of the hardest-hit areas, including Sumy, Kharkiv and Sievieredonetsk.             

Additionally, a $1.1 billion appeal to support people inside Ukraine, launched last month, is now nearly 60 per cent funded. 

The town of Irpin, in the Kyiv region, Ukraine.
© ICRC The town of Irpin, in the Kyiv region, Ukraine.

Peace is the remedy: WHO 

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has underlined commitment to support the country in addressing immediate challenges and future reconstruction needs. 

“The life-saving medicine Ukraine needs right now is peace,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, speaking during a press conference from the western city of Lviv on Thursday - World Health Day. 

Health under attack 

WHO reported a grim milestone on Thursday, having verified more than 100 attacks against health care since the war began, killing 73 people and injuring 51 more.  

Of the 103 attacks so far, nearly 90 have impacted health facilities, while 13 affected transport, including ambulances. 

Due to the conflict, half of all pharmacies in Ukraine are also presumed closed, while some 1,000 health facilities are in proximity to conflict areas, or in changed areas of control. 

Standing in solidarity

Dr. Kluge expressed solidarity with Ukraine, and its health workers, who continue to deliver care in the face of immense suffering. 

“I stand with our Director-General, who on behalf of WHO, has consistently called on the Russian Federation for a humanitarian ceasefire immediately, which includes unhindered access to humanitarian assistance for those in need,” he said. 

WHO’s work in Ukraine is centred around three principles, starting with keeping health facilities operational.   

More aid on the way 

Teams have delivered more than 185 tonnes of medical supplies to the hardest hit areas, including besieged Sumy, reaching half a million people with materials to support trauma, surgery and primary health care. 

Another 125 tonnes are on the way, and items such as wheelchairs, communications aids for the blind, and other assistive products, are in transit. 

WHO is also working with neighbouring countries, and across the entire European region, to ensure millions fleeing the fighting can also receive care and that health systems can manage the influx. 

Conflict must end 

Prior to the war, Ukraine had been making “excellent progress” against challenges such as tuberculosis, HIV and moving towards universal health coverage. 

Dr. Kluge stressed the importance of not losing this momentum. 

WHO is preparing to redeploy teams throughout the country as access and security improves, he said, underlining commitment to being present during the current humanitarian response and in post-conflict rebuilding. 

“Health requires peace, well-being requires hope, and healing requires time,” said Dr, Kluge, adding “it is my deepest wish that this war comes to an end swiftly, without further loss of life. Tragically, this is not the reality we see.”