Open the gates of hell for civilians in Mariupol, says UN’s Amin Awad

The siege of Mariupol is a “desperate, hellish” situation that requires the immediate set-up of humanitarian corridors to evacuate trapped civilians, Amin Awad, the United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, told Euronews.

“It is a very hellish situation,” Awad said. “People lost their life. Others are still there. Bombardments are taking place. People are in basements or bunkers or hiding in one place or another. But it’s desperate. These are still children, women, elderly people and the destruction is huge.”

“We [the UN] have been asking for corridors to open. We’re asking for humanitarian pauses, for a ceasefire, for windows of silence so that people can leave peacefully this town, which is under bombardment. There are international humanitarian principles and we have to respect them.”

Even if the Russian advance appears to have stalled in other parts of the country, Mariupol continues to be encircled by the army. Around 2-300,000 residents are believed to be trapped in the port city, which is a strategic point for Moscow to capture as part of its military campaign to invade Ukraine.

Electricity and running water have been cut off, further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis inside the city. Local authorities say more than 2,400 civilians have been killed as Russian shelling hit civilian buildings including a school and a theatre where people were sheltering from the fighting, and that many were buried in mass graves. The attacks raised accusations of war crimes against the Kremlin.

“It’s very hellish over there, and I think the gates of hell have to open so people can come out,” said Awad, noting Russia has not yet responded to the UN appeals for humanitarian corridors.

Awad spoke to Euronews’ Shona Murray in Brussels a day after returning from Ukraine, where he spent two weeks and a half travelling the country to assess the situation on the ground. Due to the extreme circumstances, he could not enter Mariupol but visited other cities in the East.

“We have about eight million people on the move inside Ukraine. Some are in displacement, some are on their vehicles or any type of transport moving from one place to another. And we have almost four million that crossed cross international borders and sought refuge in surrounding countries and beyond. The situation is dire,” he said.

“People are leaving because of fear, not because of lack of food or supplies. Fear is the number one reason why people are moving from one place to another and seeking safety.”

Describing the impact of the war on the country, the coordinator said destruction “is not widespread” but is indeed “huge” in the eastern front, where the majority of the displaced people come from.

Awad, who has over 30 years of experience in humanitarian affairs and development, said the refugee crisis in Ukraine is the fastest in recent memory.

The massive exodus that followed the Syrian Civil War — six million internally displaced and five million in other countries — took place over the course of five years. In the case of Ukraine, over 10 million have left their homes in less than a month, amounting to 25% of the population.

“The logic of war is not going to win and the population will be in dire need. And not only that, the surrounding countries who are impacted by the arrival of refugees,” the coordinator said.

Asked if the international community will eventually forget about Ukraine like it happened with past conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, Awad answered the two parties involved in the war are too essential for the global economy to overlook.

“I think the world will continue to focus on Ukraine and Russia because of the source of food and because of the source of energy that is here in this region and the world cannot do without them. Food, energy, that’s very important and the world cannot move on and focus somewhere else,” he said.

“It is a shaky period really for the world at large. This war is not just a Ukraine war. This is a global war.”