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UN Geneva Press Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired a hybrid briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Trade and Development. 

Situation in Ukraine

Dr. Jarno Habicht, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Ukraine, speaking from Kyiv, said that, as over the past two weeks, fighting in the Kharkiv region had severely escalated, over 14,000 people had been displaced, and nearly 189,000 more still resided within 25 kilometers of the border with Russia, facing significant risks due to the ongoing fighting. Homes and civilian infrastructure were being badly damaged, and people across Ukraine, including in Kyiv, were facing electricity shortages as a result of attacks on critical power facilities.

On 19 May, a major missile strike on the outskirts of Kharkiv had resulted in 11 deaths and numerous injuries, including a paramedic. Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, on average 200 ambulances per year were damaged or destroyed in shelling attacks - a tremendous loss, depriving the Ukrainian people of urgent care. With the worsening security situation, humanitarian needs in the region were growing fast.

Dr. Habicht further informed that in Kharkiv, the conflict had significantly increased the number of trauma patients. WHO was currently funding critical care teams and ambulances to support emergency medical services. Anticipating this possible escalation, in the previous three months, the WHO had prepositioned over 22 metric tons of medical supplies for treatment of acute trauma, surgical interventions and chronic disease management; those supplies were now able to reach up to 50,000 people. WHO’s nine modular clinics, installed in the Kharkiv oblast since 2023, continued to function across the region. With over 40 organizations on the ground providing some form of support, the WHO’s coordination role was more essential than ever, he stressed. While this immediate support was essential, no less important was the strengthening of the health system, in order to withstand repeated waves of violence escalation. Now was the time to get ready for the next winter and ensure that Ukraine's health care system could continue functioning amidst prolonged adversity. Ukraine’s people were its most important capital, and it had to be ensured that they were protected by resilient, patient-centered health care system, concluded Dr. Habicht.

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the UNHCR was extremely worried about the worsening situation and resulting spike in humanitarian needs and forced displacement owing to the new ground offensive by the Russian Federation Armed Forces in the northeastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine. At the same time, relentless aerial attacks continued, prolonging, and exacerbating an already dire situation. More than two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion, regular shelling and attacks continued to claim lives and destroy homes and critical infrastructure across the country. Most recently, on 19 May, an air attack had targeted a recreation area in Cherkaska Lozova village in the Kharkiv region, killing six people and injuring at least 27. In the past week, more than 10,300 people had been evacuated from their villages in Kharkiv region’s border areas by Ukrainian authorities with the help of volunteers and humanitarian organizations. 

Most evacuees had expressed a clear wish to stay with family members or in rental accommodation and collective sites in Kharkiv and not move further from their homes, to be able to return when the situation allowed, informed Ms. Mantoo. UNHCR was concerned that conditions in Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second largest city, which was already hosting some 200,000 internally displaced people – could become even more difficult if the ground offensive and relentless aerial attacks were to continue. This could force many to leave Kharkiv for safety and survival, seeking protection elsewhere. Under the leadership of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, OCHA was coordinating the development of enhanced response preparedness levels with the humanitarian clusters and lead agencies. To ensure that UNHCR and partners could respond to the evolving situation, it was crucial that donors maintain robust and flexible funding for our humanitarian and recovery programmes, which included support to the winter response later this year, as the comprehensive damage to energy facilities was estimated to significantly increase the need for humanitarian assistance during the cold season. As of the end of April, UNHCR’s response in Ukraine was just 16 per cent funded from a total of USD 598.9 million required.

Full statement is available here

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said that OCHA was reporting increased hostilities in the Kharkiv region, but also casualties in eastern and southern Ukraine. Aid workers continued their efforts to support the people affected by the ongoing hostilities. As of today, informed Ms. Vellucci, the funding coverage of the Ukraine appeal currently stood at just over 23 percent. 

Responding to questions from the media, Dr. Habicht, for the WHO, said that the numbers of displaced people, since the intensification of the hostilities over the past three weeks, were constantly changing as the situation was fluid. Ms. Mantoo, for the UNHCR, explained that there were two appeals for Ukraine: one for the response within the country, and another to support neighbouring countries which had accepted millions of Ukrainian refugees. There was no sufficient predictability of funding at the moment, which was a concern. UNHCR’s part of the appeal was only 16 percent funded as of today. Planning for the winter ought to already start, even if it looked distant. It was important to maintain donor and media attention, as well as public interest, in the humanitarian needs in Ukraine, said Ms. Mantoo; all crises around the world deserved to be adequately addressed. Dr. Habicht said that it was hoped 3.8 million people would be reached with health support in 2024. He recalled that in 2016 and 2017, the humanitarian funding for the Donbas had gone down, and it seemed that a similar pattern was being observed now, with some donor fatigue in the third year of the conflict. 

On another question, Ms. Mantoo stated that the UNHCR was concerned about all civilian casualties, but did not have access to the database of casualties within Russia. WHO was monitoring and validating attacks on health across Ukraine, said Dr. Habicht. He explained that availability of medicines was better today than at the beginning of the conflict in 2022. More than 75 percent of people faced challenges affording the medicines, however, as the number of people living under the poverty line was growing. In frontline areas, if pharmacies were closed, mobile pharmacies and humanitarian workers were distributing medicine to those in need. Availability of healthcare workers was becoming a challenge, he added, and they needed to be adequately supported. 

UNECE tools that facilitate the digitalization of trade and maritime transport

Jovana Miočinović, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), informed that this week UNECE was taking part in the Global Supply Chain Forum in Barbados to present its trade facilitation tools. These tools were widely used to facilitate transport and economic activities, primarily to enable greater interoperability and harmonization of electronic business practices and information exchange, and thus increase the accuracy in processing trade exchanges. 

As of 1 January 2024, under International Maritime Organization’s Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, governments were required to use a single digital platform, known as the Maritime Single Window, to share and exchange information with ships during their port calls. A significant milestone in the digitalization of maritime transport, the Maritime Single Window was based on UNECE’s Single Window (UNECE Recommendation No. 33), which ensured efficient exchange of trade-related information and allows for documents to be submitted only once at a single-entry point to fulfil all import, export and transit-related regulatory requirements. Another flagship UNECE product that played an integral role in maritime operations was the United Nations Code for Trade and Transport Locations (UN/LOCODE)., which uniquely and unambiguously identified locations worldwide for transport and economic activities.

Ms. Miočinović further informed that another UNECE tool widely used in international supply chains, transport, and logistics to ensure uniform data exchange was the United Nations rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/EDIFACT), which was used by 100,000 traders in the retail sector alone. Finally, the United Nations Fisheries Language for Universal Exchange (UN/FLUX) provided a harmonized message standard that allows fishery management organizations to automatically access electronic data from fishing vessels and automate the collection and dissemination of the fishery activity data needed for sustainable fishery management and for detecting and combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Together, all these UNECE tools were critical to overcoming the fragmentation of digitalization efforts and fostering sustainable, efficient, and transparent supply chains. 


Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that a press conference with Dr. Tedros on global health issues would be held at 4:30 pm today. On 23 May at 3 pm, a press conference would be held in advance of the World No Tobacco Day, to present a report on how the tobacco and nicotine industry was working to addict global youth to their products. There would also be a press conference on global health statistics in the morning on 23 May, with the precise time to be confirmed. 

Responding to a question, he explained that the journalists already accredited to the Palais des Nations would not need another badge to attend the 77th World Health Assembly. There would be dedicated press and camera areas, as usual. The COVID pass requirement to enter the WHO premises had been lifted, he explained. Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), added that the UNOG restricted working hours, imposed for the liquidity reasons, would be lifted during the WHA. The Walk the Talk event on 26 May would commence at 9 am, but there would be no events at the Palais that day, only an event at the WHO building. 

She also informed that the seventh Protection of Civilians week had started on 20 May. Twenty-five years earlier, the Security Council had added protection of civilians to its agenda, and today, from 4 pm Geneva time, the Security Council would discuss this issue, which would be live webcast at UNTV. 

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that for UNCTAD’s 60th anniversary on 12 June, the accredited journalists’ UN Geneva badges would be valid and sufficient, and there was no need for secondary badges. Today, at 3 pm, there would be an opening of the Global Supply Chain Forum in Barbados, which would be followed at UNCTAD’s YouTube channel. 

The International Criminal Court was independent from the United Nations, said Ms. Vellucci in response to another question. The matter of indictments against Israeli and Hamas leaders was now before the Pre-Trial Chamber, which should be allowed to conduct its work without external pressure. UN Spokesperson had answered numerous questions on this subject in his noon briefing the previous day. 

Ms. Vellucci explained that every time when a Head of a UN Member State deceased, the United Nations lowered its flag half-mast, as per established protocol practices. The same was being done today at UN premises following the death of the President of Iran.

Finally, she informed that the Committee on the Rights of the Child would close its 96th session on 24 May at 5 pm and issue its concluding observations on the nine countries reviewed: Namibia, Guatemala, Georgia, Mali, Panama, Egypt, Bhutan, Estonia, and Paraguay.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was reviewing today the report of Kuwait. 

This morning, the Conference on Disarmament was holding a public plenary meeting under the presidency of Iran.