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U.N. shifts aid east in Ukraine, plans convoys to rebel areas

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By Reuters
U.N. plans aid convoys for rebel regions of Luhansk and Donetsk
U.N. plans aid convoys for rebel regions of Luhansk and Donetsk   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

By Emma Farge

GENEVA -The U.N. humanitarian office (OCHA) is moving aid eastwards in Ukraine and plans aid convoys to the rebel regions of Luhansk and Donetsk next week as fighting shifts, a spokesperson told a press briefing on Friday.

“We have in our planning convoys to go there I understand already next week. Whether that happens or not depends on the security situation,” Jens Laerke said, calling the regions that Russia has recognised as independent states, “areas of heightened humanitarian concern”.

U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths has visited Ukraine and Russia this week where he met with both parties and discussed arrangements for a possible humanitarian ceasefire to the six-week old conflict.

“For now, we don’t have a commitment to any ceasefire from either of the two parties,” Laerke added, saying this would be an “incremental process” and that Griffiths would continue efforts to seek agreement on localised ceasefires.

During his visit, he told Ukraine’s government that international U.N. staff would be returning to Kyiv in the coming days following the withdrawal of Russian troops from nearby areas. More humanitarian hubs were also being set up further east, such as Dnipro. “The idea is to get as physically close to people most in need as possible,” Laerke said.

On Thursday, he visited Bucha where he saw a mass grave containing 280 bodies and repeated U.N. calls for an immediate, independent investigation, Laerke added.

In the same briefing, a World Health Organization spokesperson said that the agency had trained almost 1,500 health workers to respond to a possible “chemical incident” in Ukraine. The body is also providing treatments in case of chemical exposure and protective gear, she added.

The U.N. agency said on Thursday it was preparing for possible “chemical assaults” in a sign it is taking warnings that have emerged from both the West and Moscow seriously.