‘No matter what, wars are bad,’ says UN crisis chief in Ukraine

UN News: The Russian war in Ukraine has reached a tragic stage. Are there any hopes that this war will end soon?

Amin Awad: “There is optimism about the end of the war, because neither Ukraine nor Russia can afford it. Ukraine suffers from loss of life, destruction of hospitals, schools, homes, stations and railways and the transport sector. And the sanctions against Russia are severe.

It is also destructive to the world. Ukraine covers about 15 to 20% of world food needs. This food is trapped and we have another harvest season ahead: we have an inconvenient disruption of food pipelines and supply chains.

We are also seeing inflation problems and countries defaulting on their debt: Sri Lanka, for example, is unable to repay its loans. The world is not well.

Aid workers prepare to deliver much-needed aid from the UN and humanitarian partners in Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine.

UN News: Civilians are paying the highest price for this invasion. Many have been killed, while millions have sought refuge in neighboring countries. What is the situation for those who are still in the country?

Amin Awad: There is a feeling of despair. There are almost eight million internally displaced people and another six million abroad. About 15 million people have not left their homes, but they are affected by the loss of their livelihoods and have lost access to services such as education, health and other amenities. Millions of children do not go to school.

The social security system is strained. Government services are in demand. So does the humanitarian community. It’s really a bad situation.

UN News: The UN and the Red Cross (ICRC) have facilitated the evacuation of desperate civilians trapped in the Azovstal steelworks in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. Are there any similar operations the UN is involved in at the moment, to evacuate those trapped in hostile areas?

Amin Awad: We have not received evacuation requests, such as Mariupol, but we have submitted requests for access to areas where people need food, medical supplies and other types of support .

Civilians from Mariupol flee the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol during a UN-led evacuation.

Civilians from Mariupol flee the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol during a UN-led evacuation.

Also, I think now we really need to focus on winter: it’s already June, and winter is fast approaching, and in this part of the world, temperatures are below zero. With many power stations destroyed and alternative energy supplies lost, we must quickly find a strategy to support millions of people through this winter.

UN News: You have been in Ukraine for some time now and have seen the ugly face of this war. Can you tell us a human story that touched you deeply?

Amin Awad: There is a lot of suffering. As I pass through some of these areas of destruction, I see children who have escaped the destruction of their homes or buildings and find themselves on the road alone, with no parents, no guardians and nowhere to go.

There is a lot of suffering. As I pass through some of these areas of destruction, I see children who have escaped the destruction of their homes or buildings and find themselves on the road alone, with no parents, no guardians and nowhere to go.

I think this is one of the ugly faces of war that we have to stop.

UN News: Regarding the security of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, is the UN working with the parties to deal with possible threats?

Amin Awad: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been here several times. They went to all the factories. Zaporizhzhya is under Russian control, and I believe there is a negotiation going on to grant access to the agency.

Nuclear power plants could represent a danger, not only for Ukraine, but for the whole continent. They therefore require the utmost attention and safety procedures and protocols must be followed.

UN News: There have been numerous attacks on schools across Ukraine. You called on warring parties to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure and stressed that these obligations under international humanitarian law are non-negotiable. Are there any signs that Russia is listening to these calls?

Amin Awad: We continue to call on Russia to really spare what we call civil infrastructure, meaning water sources, electricity sources, schools and hospitals.

We will continue to make these appeals, as the number of people who have fled due to these attacks is huge and unacceptable.

The principal of a school in Chernihiv, Ukraine, examines the damage caused during an aerial bombardment.

The principal of a school in Chernihiv, Ukraine, examines the damage caused during an aerial bombardment.

UN News: Do you have a final message?

Amin Awad: My last message is really that this war stops. The world will gain a lot from it.

About 69 countries could be affected by food shortages, inflation, supply chain collapse, unemployment impact and many other elements.

The world is already facing many challenges. One of them is climate change, which also affects agriculture and other sources of livelihood.

So however you look at it – strategically, politically, or economically – wars are bad.

There is no gain in any war. Everyone loses.”

The text of this interview has been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full audio interview below:

Christi C. Elwood