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WORLD | 02-03-2022 23:59

One million refugees fled Ukraine in week since Russia's invasion, says UN

UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopts resolution that "demands" Russia "immediately" withdraw from Ukraine.

One million refugees have fled Ukraine in the week since Russia's invasion, the UN's refugee agency announced late Wednesday. 

"In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighbouring countries," the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted, while urging "guns to fall silent" in the country.

The head of the UN refugee agency plans to travel in the coming days to Romania, Moldova and Poland, three of the countries that are hosting the influx of refugees.

According to Polish border guards, more than half a million people had entered the country from Ukraine by Wednesday at 3pm local time (11am Buenos Aires).

A UN balance sheet not updated since Tuesday also shows that more than 115,000 people fled to Hungary and about 80,000 to Moldova.

This week, UNHCR launched an emergency appeal for US$1.7 billion to help people exiled or displaced by the conflict in Ukraine.

According to its estimates, 12 million people in the country and another four million who fled abroad will need protection and assistance in the coming months.

 

UN condemnation

Earlier in the day, the UN General Assembly on Wednesday overwhelmingly adopted a resolution that "demands" Russia "immediately" withdraw from Ukraine, in a powerful rebuke of Moscow's invasion by a vast majority of the world's nations.

After more than two days of extraordinary debate, which saw the Ukrainian ambassador accuse Russia of genocide, 141 out of 193 United Nations member states voted for the non-binding resolution. 

"The world is rejecting Russia’s lies," US President Joe Biden said in a statement later Wednesday. "Russia is responsible for the devastating abuses of human rights and the international humanitarian crisis that we are watching unfold in Ukraine in real time."

China was among the 35 countries which abstained, while just five – Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Belarus and of course Russia – voted against it.

The resolution "deplores" the invasion of Ukraine "in the strongest terms" and condemns President Vladimir Putin's decision to put his nuclear forces on alert.

The vote had been touted by diplomats as a bellwether of democracy in a world where autocracy is on the rise, and came as Putin's forces bear down on Kyiv while terrified Ukrainians flee.

"They have come to deprive Ukraine of the very right to exist," Ukraine's ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the Assembly ahead of the vote. "It's already clear that the goal of Russia is not an occupation only. It is genocide."

Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Moscow has pleaded "self-defence" under Article 51 of the UN Charter. But that has been roundly rejected by Western countries who accuse Moscow of violating Article 2 of the Charter, requiring UN members to refrain from the threat or use of force to resolve a crisis.

The European Union's ambassador to the UN Olof Skoog said the vote was "not just about Ukraine."

"It is about defending an international order based on rules we all have signed up to," he said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the General Assembly's message was "loud and clear."

"End hostilities in Ukraine – now. Silence the guns – now," he said in a statement. 

"As bad as the situation is for the people in Ukraine right now, it threatens to get much, much worse. The ticking clock is a time bomb."

Some delegations chose to place stuffed animals on their tables during the session – a stark visual reminder of the conflict's devastating impact on children.

 

Russia captures city of Kherson

Russian forces have taken the Ukrainian city of Kherson, local officials confirmed Wednesday night, the first major urban centre to fall since Moscow invaded one week ago.

"The [Russian] occupiers are in all parts of the city and are very dangerous," Gennady Lakhuta, head of the regional administration, wrote on messaging service Telegram late Wednesday.

The strategic port city of 290,000 people near the Black Sea came under siege as Russian forces pressed ahead with their offensive across other urban centres.

Another key Ukrainian port, Berdiansk, has already been seized by Russian troops, while Mariupol has repelled attacks "with dignity," according to that city's mayor, Vadim Boichenko.

Russian forces have also bombarded Ukraine's second-biggest city Kharkiv, prompting comparisons to the massacres of civilians in Sarajevo in the 1990s.

After days of intense fighting, hundreds of civilians have been killed since the invasion began, triggering punishing Western sanctions intended to cripple Russia's economy.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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