Red Cross chief ‘cautiously positive’ on possible prisoner visits to Ukraine

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer visits a children’s hospital in Horlivka (Gorlovka) near Donetsk, Ukraine November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File Photo

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GENEVA, March 1 (Reuters) – The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross told Reuters on Tuesday he was “cautiously confident” the ICRC would have access to Ukrainian and Russian prisoners held in connection with the conflict.

Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Staff said on Tuesday it was holding 200 Russian prisoners of war, while Russian news agencies quoted Denis Pushilin, leader of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, as saying saying that there were hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

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ICRC President Peter Maurer said based on his latest discussions with senior Ukrainian and Russian officials, they seemed to understand the work of the neutral aid agency.

Maurer, when asked about prisoner visits, said in an interview: “That hasn’t happened yet. current situation, and the importance for the ICRC to have access (to detainees) and to be able to do this work. »

He added: “It will take security, logistics, everything in place. It is not for tomorrow, immediately. But I did not find any political objections, from one side or from the other, to the basic and essential functions of the ICRC’s mandate.”

The ICRC visits people in detention centers around the world, from Syria to the US base at Guantanamo Bay, demanding private interviews with detainees to verify that their treatment and conditions of detention are humane and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions . The agency also transmits family messages.

Earlier, Red Cross agencies appealed for 250 million Swiss francs ($273 million) to provide food, water and shelter to millions of people in Ukraine, where the humanitarian situation “was rapidly deteriorating”, and to those who fled abroad. L8N2V42KE

The ICRC already had 600 aid workers across Ukraine, including 400 in the eastern Donbass region, split between an area controlled by the Ukrainian government and one held by pro-Moscow separatists since 2014.

“For eight years we had a predictable front line and we had programs and structures in place,” Maurer said. “And my biggest worry for the last two days and the next 2-3 days is basically to establish communication channels.

“You have to be able to communicate with the parties, put them in touch. This is our classic role as a neutral intermediary, exchanging information on corpses, on prisoners, on particularly difficult situations for civilians in order to be able to renegotiate a license operating”. in a very complex environment.

Russia warned Kyiv residents to flee their homes on Tuesday and rained down rockets on the city of Kharkiv as Russian commanders stepped up their bombardment of Ukrainian urban areas in a change of tactics after their six-month assault halted. days. Read more

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Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Mark Heinrich

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