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Russia rejected a temporary cease-fire in Ukraine that the United Nations secretary general requested for the purpose of civilian evacuation during the Eastern Orthodox Holy Week leading up to Easter. Russia’s deputy UN ambassador said the cease-fire request was not sincere and would only provide time to arm Ukrainian soldiers.
Dmitry Polyanskiy, the deputy ambassador, told the Security Council Tuesday that the cease-fire requests were “insincere, and in practice they merely point to an aspiration to provide Kyiv nationalists breathing room to regroup and receive more drones, more antitank missiles and more MANPADS,” The New York Times reported. “MANPADS” refers to man-portable air-defense systems, smaller and more portable surface-to-air missiles.
While Russia rejected a cease-fire, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced early Wednesday that Ukraine had reached a settlement with Russia on a humanitarian corridor to evacuate women, children, and the elderly from Mariupol beginning at 2 p.m. It remains unclear whether the corridor will be maintained, as such measures have often fallen through, with each side blaming the other.
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U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called for a 4-day ceasefire to allow for evacuations in battle zones and for safe corridors to bring in food and medicine.
Civilians, including children, remain trapped in the eastern region of Donbas, where Russian forces began a new fierce offensive, and in the devastated port city of Mariupol. Guterres said earlier Tuesday that more than 12 million people in Ukraine needed humanitarian assistance. He predicted that number would rise to 15.7 million, about 40% of all Ukrainians remaining in the country.
Even China, which has not condemned Russia and abstained from votes on resolutions against the aggressor country, said it supported a humanitarian cease-fire.
Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has twice used its veto power on resolutions focused on Ukraine after the invasion began in February.
Russia’s rejection also comes after the head of the World Council of Churches reached out to Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill, urging him to use his religious authority as the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church to call for a cease-fire as Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter this weekend.
“Our humble request to your Holiness in this particular and impossible situation is to intervene and ask publicly for a ceasefire for at least a few hours during the Resurrection service,” Rev. Ioan Sauca, a Romanian Orthodox priest and acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches, wrote in a letter published Tuesday.
Sauca requested this move in order “to give a chance to the soldiers and to the terrified civilians to embrace and greet one another with the paschal greeting, to silence for a moment the bombs and the missiles and to hear instead the triumphant sound of the church bells and the joyful signing of the faithful people. May such a short ceasefire be a foretaste and a proof that a lasting peace can be achieved.”
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Sauca noted that “the Orthodox and Greek Catholic faithful in Ukraine, in Russia and all over the world are preparing to celebrate at the end of this week the most important feast of the year, the Day of Resurrection.” The priest also noted that the fighting in World War I “stopped for a moment so that the soldiers could share with one another the Resurrection greeting.”