Russia calls for humanitarian mission to Ukraine as Poland sounds a warning

At a UN Security Council meeting, Russia raised concerns over displacement in eastern Ukraine and called for greater aid to civilians. Critics say Russia is cloaking its true intentions in a conflict that it helped seed.

Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
A man sits in a tram as people gather near a damaged building following what locals say was a recent airstrike by Ukrainian forces in Donetsk, August 6, 2014.

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A senior United Nations official told the Security Council Tuesday night that “immediate action” was required to find a political situation to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The emergency meeting was held at the request of Russia, which says eastern Ukraine faces a “humanitarian catastrophe” and proposed a humanitarian mission to help displaced civilians, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Critics accuse Russia of using civilian suffering as a pretext to intervene directly in a region where pro-Russian separatists are battling Ukrainian forces.

Moscow is staging a week of war games near Ukraine’s border, and raised troop levels to 20,000 according to senior NATO officials. As The Christian Science Monitor’s Moscow correspondent reported, that’s far below the 40,000 troops massed by the border in March and may be primarily meant to rattle nerves, a goal it looks to be accomplishing.

Today, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk warned in a news conference that “the risk of a direct intervention [by Russia’s military in Ukraine] is for sure higher than it was several days ago.” 

John Ging, director of UN humanitarian operations, told the Security Council that power and water supplies have been cut to a few hours a day in Donetsk and Luhansk; health supplies are low; and about 70 percent of health workers have left, according to the Associated Press.

Just over 4,000 people have been wounded in eastern Ukraine since April. About 58,000 people have left since early July, and more than a thousand others are fleeing each day, Ging said....

Fighting across eastern Ukraine has forced more than 285,000 people to flee their homes, according to U.N. figures released Tuesday. The U.N. refugee agency said more than 117,000 have left for other places inside Ukraine, while another 168,000 have crossed into Russia.

Britain’s UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant echoed questions by the US and Rwandan ambassadors about Russia’s request for an emergency meeting on the humanitarian situation. 

“It is deeply ironic that Russia should call for an emergency meeting of the council to discuss a humanitarian crisis largely of its own creation,” Mr. Grant said.

Russia's state-run media outlets prominently covered the UN meeting and cast blame on Ukraine:

From Itar-Tass:

“However, despite data from relevant international agencies, the Ukrainian authorities refuse to admit obvious for all humanitarian problems in the southeast of Ukraine,” [Russia’s Foreign Ministry] said.

“We consider this position, when the Kiev authorities dodge cooperation in meeting humanitarian needs of the population affected by the conflict, as absolutely irresponsible,” the ministry went on.

From Ria Novosti:

On Tuesday, Russia called for an emergency UN Security Council session on the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, hit by Kiev’s military crackdown on independence supporters. Russia's Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said Moscow seeks full transparency and suggested sending humanitarian convoys to eastern Ukraine that will be protected and sponsored by the Red Cross.

Fighting grew closer to the center of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. City officials said Tuesday that three people had been killed in overnight shelling.

In the Kalininsky neighborhood only 5 kilometers (3 miles) east of Donetsk's central square, rebels and civilians were milling around outside after a night of what many said they believed were Ukrainian air strikes. There were eight craters at the scene that appeared to be the result of aerial bombing.

Ukrainian security spokesman Andriy Lysenko categorically denied Wednesday that Ukrainian airplanes have carried out air strikes on Donestsk.

"The cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as other cities and residential areas, are not being bombed by Ukrainian military aviation," Lysenko said.

Alexander Pivko, an emergency worker at the scene, didn't believe it. "It was an aerial attack, and two warehouse workers were injured," he said, adding that no one in the neighborhood had been killed.

The Ukrainian military’s offensive to reclaim major cities in eastern Ukraine is slow going, the Wall Street Journal reports, as troops encounter heavy fighting.

In the last few days, Kiev's advance has appeared to slow amid heavier rebel resistance. On Tuesday, a military spokesman said the military had retreated from Yasinuvata, a small city on the northern outskirts of Donetsk, only a day after reporting it had been taken. The spokesman said the pullback was driven by a desire to avoid civilian casualties.

Also on Tuesday, some 400 Ukrainian troops who had sought temporary refuge in Russia after being surrounded by rebel forces for weeks, were returned to Ukraine.

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