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The United Nations has announced the allocation of $20 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs in Ukraine.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his plea for Russia to halt its military operations against Ukraine.

“Stop the military operation. Bring the troops back to Russia,” the UN chief said while speaking to reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Thursday.

Despite efforts by the international community to avert military action in Ukraine, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin did just that – triggering a barrage of reactions, beginning with the UN secretary-general, condemning the move and appealing for peace.

“All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations,” he said, quoting the Charter.

President Putin had said the assault is meant to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting the government for nearly eight years.

He said that UN staff are working on “both sides of the contact line,” providing life-saving humanitarian relief to people in need, “regardless of who or where they are”.

The UN chief restated that international humanitarian and human rights law must be upheld, noting that the decisions of the coming days “will shape our world and directly affect the lives of millions upon millions of people”.

Prior to the media briefing, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had issued a statement on the military attack.

“Civilians in various parts of Ukraine were awoken by sounds of heavy bombardment and are terrified of further escalation, with many fleeing their homes,” she said. “This military action clearly violates international law and puts at risk countless civilian lives. It must be immediately halted.”

Ms Bachelet reminded that States failing to take all reasonable measures to settle their international disputes by peaceful means “fall short of complying with their obligation to protect the right to life.”

Reports have emerged of military strikes near major cities with significant populations, including Kharkiv, Kramatorsk, Odesa, Mariupol and the capital, Kyiv, according to the UN.

“The protection of the civilian population must be a priority. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas should – at all costs – be avoided,” underscored the High Commissioner.

She called for the full respect of international humanitarian law, in particular the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their first additional protocol of 1977, as well as international human rights law.

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission remains in the country and will continue to closely monitor and report on the situation.

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