UN Secretary-General and Putin agreed to evacuate a key part of Ukraine

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin met one-on-one on Tuesday for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the United Nations said it had agreed to organize an evacuation from a besieged steel plant to the devastated city of Mariupol.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the Russian leader and the head of the UN discussed “proposals for humanitarian assistance and the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones, in particular, in connection with the situation in Mariupol.”

They also agreed in principle, he said, that the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross should be involved in the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal steel complex, where Ukrainian defenders in the southeastern city are stubbornly resisting.

According to Dujarric, negotiations will be held with the UN Humanitarian Office and the Russian Defense Ministry regarding the evacuation.

During the meeting, which, according to the UN, lasted almost two hours, Putin and Guterres sat at opposite ends of a long white table in a room with red-bordered gold curtains. There was no one else at the table.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres (right) meet in Moscow, Russia, April 26, 2022.

Kremlin Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Guterres has criticized Russia’s military actions in Ukraine as a flagrant violation of its neighbor’s territorial integrity and called on Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped in a steel plant.

In response, Putin said that Russian troops had provided humanitarian corridors for civilians hiding at the station. But, according to him, the Ukrainian defenders of the plant used civilians as shields and did not let them leave.

The sprawling site of Azovstal has been almost completely destroyed by Russian attacks, but it is the last seat of organized Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. Some 2,000 soldiers and 1,000 civilians are reported to have taken refuge in fortified positions under destroyed structures.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday ahead of Guterres’ visit, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba noted that other foreign officials who visited Moscow were not getting results and urged the UN chief to put pressure on Russia to evacuate Mariupol. “This is really what the UN is capable of,” Kuleba said.

Guterres flew to Rzeszow, Poland, from Moscow late Tuesday evening, where he was met by Polish President Andrzej Duda. He is due to travel to Kyiv on Thursday for meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Kuleba, and his meeting with Putin is expected to be the top item on the agenda.

Many analysts have little hope for Guterres’ diplomatic involvement in the war in Ukraine. But Deputy UN Spokesman Farhan Haq was extraordinarily optimistic on Monday ahead of meetings in Moscow, telling reporters that Guterres “believes there is an opportunity now” and is “using the maximum time” of his time on the ground, will talk to leaders and see what can be achieved. . .

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Guterres accused the Russians of violating the UN Charter calling for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

He has also repeatedly called for a cessation of hostilities, most recently last Tuesday calling unsuccessfully for a four-day “humanitarian pause” leading up to Orthodox Easter on Sunday.

UN Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine Amin Awad on Sunday called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Mariupol to allow the evacuation of some 100,000 trapped civilians.

Guterres told a press conference after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier Tuesday that safe and efficient humanitarian corridors are urgently needed to evacuate civilians and deliver aid.

To deal with the “crisis within the crisis in Mariupol”, he proposed coordination between the UN, the Red Cross and Ukrainian and Russian forces to ensure the evacuation of civilians who want to leave “both inside and outside the Azovstal plant and in the city” . , in any direction they choose, and deliver the necessary humanitarian assistance.”

The head of the UN also proposed the creation of a Humanitarian Contact Group, composed of Russia, Ukraine and the UN, “to look for opportunities to open safe corridors with a local cessation of hostilities and ensure that they are really effective.”

Dujarric did not mention a wider evacuation of civilians from Mariupol or Guterres’ humanitarian contact group, but the removal of civilians from the steel plant would be an important step.

On Saturday, a Ukrainian military unit released a video, reportedly taken two days earlier, of women and children hiding underground in a factory, some for as long as two months, and saying they longed to see the sun.


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