Putin Ukraine
Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations has taken place on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border Image Credit: Gulf News

As the Ukraine conflict entered its 20th day, there are no signs of Russia winding down its offensive anytime soon. The military operation is in fact intensifying despite the ongoing talks between the two sides, leading to the largest exodus of refugees in Europe since the Second World War.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, more than 2.6 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the conflict on February 24. The agency expects the number of Ukrainian refugees to exceed 6 million soon.

Poland is hosting the largest number of those refugees, well over 1.6 million, while Hungary, Slovakia, Russia, Moldova, and Romania host another million. The agency says its teams in Ukraine are faced with “logistical hurdles” in providing necessary aid as they continue to work in “frightening” conditions due to the relentless bombing and ground fighting. It has become extremely difficult to help the millions of Ukrainian civilians still trapped in the country.

The plight of millions of refugees is a compelling reason for both sides to choose talks over guns to address their differences. As the war goes on, more precious lives will be lost and millions more will be forced out of their homes. UNHCR is already stretched beyond its limits because of the ongoing conflicts in other parts of the world, such as Syria, Yemen, Myanmar and others.

An end to the conflict

The humanitarian question thus puts extra emphasis on the urgent need for a political solution. The means to reach it are evidently have not been exhausted. As the Russian and Ukrainian delegations continue to meet, the top point that should be agreed on is de-escalation that would pave the way for an end to the conflict to avert a quickly developing human crisis and prevent further bloodshed.

Secondly, an immediate de-escalation will naturally lead to easing the unprecedented sanctions imposed by the West, the painful impact of which has already been felt around the world, particularly in poor countries that have yet to overcome the economic fallouts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although Russia is the main player in this conflict, but there is a greater need for a collective international effort to help both sides reach a peaceful settlement that address their respective security needs and preserve their national interests.

Major world powers must exercise a constructive role in this conflict to reach that objective. It is essential to keep the channels of dialogue open among the key players at this historic juncture. Meanwhile, able countries must do all they can to help the UN fulfil its mandate in supporting the millions of refugees and displaced.