Zelenski hosts Guterres in Kiev to work on evacuation of Ukrainian civilians

The UN Secretary-General meets with Zelenski two days after his meeting with Vladimir Putin to push for a Contact Group and ensure the creation of safe humanitarian corridors

REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH  -   UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visits the town of Borodianka, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, outside Kiev, Ukraine 28 April 2022

The Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the destination of important diplomatic visits in recent weeks, has become the scene of a meeting between President Volodymir Zelenski and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday. In addition, the high representative of the world organisation also met with the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, as well as with members of various UN agencies to analyse "the optimisation of humanitarian assistance" in the country. 

On Tuesday, Guterres sat down with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin's famous marble table to request a ceasefire "as soon as possible" and to negotiate with the Russian leader the creation of a tripartite Contact Group. The most urgent objective of this proposal would be to coordinate the parties with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and to evacuate the hundreds of civilians trapped in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, as well as to guarantee the opening of safe humanitarian corridors throughout Ukraine. 

KREMLIN/VLADIMIR ASTAPKOVICH via REUTERS - Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Moscow, Russia April 26, 2022

The situation in Azovstal is becoming more critical by the hour. "Hundreds of men are wounded at different levels of severity. They really need medical help. There are no facilities, medicines or personnel to help us", said the commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (FAU) marines, Serhiy Volynsky, in an appeal. 

Thus, despite Putin's insistence on Russia's security requirements for the withdrawal of its troops (the territorial resolution of Crimea and the Donbas region), Guterres managed to wrest from Moscow's leader an acknowledgement of the "tragic" situation in Mariupol and a dubious commitment to allow, "in principle", the evacuation of the hundreds of people trapped in Azovstal. 

REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visits the town of Irpin, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine April 28, 2022

Today, the 64th day since the start of the war in Eastern Europe, Zelenski received Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Kiev, where the two leaders sat down for talks on the Russia-Ukraine Contact Group and evacuation operations. However, during his time in the country - since his arrival on Wednesday - Guterres has visited some of the towns near Kiev that have been hardest hit by the Russian attacks - such as Irpin, Borodianka, and the tragically famous Bucha - and has received first-hand information about what has happened on their streets. 

AFP/AFP - Fact sheet of the International Criminal Court, showing the different stages of proceedings

"I imagine my family in front of one of these now destroyed and blackened houses. I see my granddaughters running in panic. War is an absurdity in the 21st century, no war is acceptable, because when we talk about war crimes we cannot forget that the worst crime is war itself," Guterres lamented during his stop in Borodianka. "When we see this horrible place, I understand how important it is to have a full investigation and to establish responsibility. I urge Russia to agree to cooperate with the ICC," the UN Secretary General said. Already on 13 March, when ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan visited the town of Bucha, he said the whole country had become a "crime scene". 

"The sooner this war ends, the better for Ukraine, Russia and the world," Guterres said in a post on his official Twitter account.

AP/EFREM LUKATSKY - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, centre, stands next to a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, April 28, 2022

On the other hand, the disagreements between Kiev and the UN caused by the itinerary of the secretary general - who visited the Russian leader before Zelenski - have been mitigated by the meeting between the two representatives and Guterres' explanations. "The order of the visits was a logistical matter. The letters were sent to the two governments from New York; Russia responded first and when the letters from Ukraine arrived, this visit was scheduled," the spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told EFE news agency. 

And while diplomatic efforts continue and Moscow, almost completely oblivious, continues its offensive against southern and eastern Ukraine, Ukraine's prosecutor general's office has opened an investigation against several Kremlin soldiers it has accused of committing war crimes in the town of Bucha. "Ten soldiers of the 64th Russian motorised rifle brigade are being investigated in connection with the cruel treatment of civilians and other violations of the law and customs of war," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.