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U.N. head calls for Ukraine cease-fire during Orthodox Easter weekend

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U.N. head calls for Ukraine cease-fire during Orthodox Easter weekend
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for a four-day pause in fighting in Ukraine to coincide with Holy Week. Photo courtesy of United Nations News Service/Twitter

April 20 (UPI) -- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a four-day pause in the fighting in Ukraine during the upcoming Orthodox Easter to allow citizens in besieged cities to flee to safety as the nearly two-month old war intensifies.

The U.N. chief made his appeal during a press conference Tuesday ahead of the Orthodox Christian Holy Week, asking for the fighting to stop on Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday.

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"Instead of a celebration of a new life, this Easter coincides with a Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine," he said. "The onslaught and terrible toll on civilians we have seen so far could pale in comparison to the horror that lies ahead.

"This cannot be allowed to happen. Hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance."

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The appeal was made as Russia launches an offensive in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region that includes the battered port city of Mariupol, which the Kremlin has demanded Kyiv to surrender.

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The pause would allow civilians to leave areas currently under attack and those expected to be in the coming days. It would also allow humanitarian aid to be shuttled to people in hard-hit cities Mariupol, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk.

According to the United Nations, more than 12 million people in Ukraine are in need of humanitarian assistance, one-third of whom are in those hard-hit cities, but the number of those in need is expected to increase to nearly 16 million.

"For all these-life-or-death reasons, I call on Russians and Ukrainians to silence the guns and forge a path to safety for so many at immediate risk," he said. "The four-day Easter period should be a moment to unite around saving lives and furthering dialogue to end the suffering in Ukraine."

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A day earlier, the U.N. humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, canceled a Tuesday trip to Turkey after testing positive for COVID-19. He was to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and to aid in laying the foundation for talks on cease-fire, which Griffiths had said were not on the horizon and were at least a few weeks if not longer away.

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He said the Russians were not putting humanitarian cease-fires "at the top of their agenda."

Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine's permanent member to the U.N., told the ambassadors of the U.N. Security Council, that he acknowledges the importance of Guterres' appeal and demands that "Russia follow this call," but suggested he had little hope Moscow would after Russia's permanent representative Dmitry Polyanskiy essentially rejected the notion of cease-fires coming from democratic nations.

Polyanskiy had described such appeals from Western nations as being "two-tongued and disingenuous," stating potential pauses in fighting "in practical terms" would give the Ukrainians time to regroup and receive shipments of new weapons.

"We will carefully distinguish between such tactical 'pseudo-peacemaking' calls and truthful desire to help Ukraine make the only right and long due decisions," he said, adding that one way or another the goals of the Kremlin invasion "will be achieved."

Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 as a so-called special military operation to denazify Ukraine but the mission changed as it prolonged to that of taking the eastern Donbas region.

More than 2,100 Ukrainian civilians have been killed amid the war and another nearly 3,000 have been injured with nearly 5 million others fleeing the country, according to U.N. data.

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Simon Coveney, the foreign minister of Ireland, visited Kyiv last week and told the Security Council on Tuesday that what he saw there "was profoundly shocking."

"I want to call on Russia directly: agree to an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, commit to negotiations and respect this charter," he said.

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