‘Tidal waves of suffering’: Russian invasion would displace up to 5 million Ukrainians, US envoy tells UN

US ambassador speaks to UN as Ukraine’s president makes emergency address to nation

Pentagon say Russian troops assembling at the border with Ukraine ‘are ready’

A Russian invasion could displace up to 5 million Ukrainians and unleash “tidal waves of suffering”, the US envoy to the United Nations has warned.

Addressing the gathering of 193 UN member countries, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said already nearly 3 million Ukrainians — half of them older people or children — needed food, shelter and other lifesaving emergency assistance.

“If Russia continues down this path, it could – according to our estimates – create a new refugee crisis, one of the largest facing the world today, with as many as 5 million more people displaced by Russia’s war of choice and putting pressure on Ukraine’s neighbours,” she said.

“And because Ukraine is one of the world’s largest wheat suppliers, especially for the developing world, Russia’s actions could cause a spike in food prices and lead to even more desperate hunger in places like Libya, Yemen, and Lebanon.”

She added: “The tidal waves of suffering this war will cause are unthinkable.”

As the leader of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an emotional early morning speech to his country, warning that Russia’s Vladmir Putin had ignored his call pleading for peace. Thousands could be killed in the fighting if the conflict escalates, he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, US defence officials warned that Mr Putin was “as ready as he can be” for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“He is as ready as he can be. We’ve been saying any day now and it’s certainly possible that today is that day,” a US defence official said. “Whether they actually go or not is really up to Mr Putin ... They could go at any hour now.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC News on Wednesday that Russia will likely invade Ukraine before the night is over, though the top diplomat said there’s still a chance to “avert a major aggression”.

“Everything seems to be in place for Russia to engage in a major aggression against Ukraine,” Mr Blinken said.

He noted, however, that details about the precise time or place of any such an attack are still unknown.

In this image provided by the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine, at the U.N. headquarters, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. (Evan Schneider/United Nations via AP)

Ms Thomas-Greenfield added that the decision to go to war was Mr Putin’s alone.

“Together with our partners and allies, President Biden has taken decisive actions to make the costs of Russia’s actions crystal clear. But as much as we all want Russia to de-escalate and choose the path of peace, that is not our choice to make,” she said. “This is President Putin’s war of choice. If he chooses to escalate further, Russia and Russia alone will bear full responsibility for what is to come.”

In a remarkable speech that was delivered partly in Russian, Mr Zelensky insisted that the people of Ukraine wanted peace as he appealed to the people of Russia.

Yet, he said if Russia were to push ahead with an invasion, his country and his people would defend themselves.

“The government in Ukraine wants peace and is doing everything it can to build it,” he said. “But if we are attacked, if someone attempts to take away our land, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves.”

The “mood is grim” in Kiev but citizens were intent on keeping their friends close by calling each other and drinking tea into the night, Guardian journalist Luke Harding has said.

Access to airspace around Ukraine was tightening ahead of an expected invasion.

Ukrainian outlet ZN,UA reported that tractors were blocking airports in Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Zaporizhzhya to prevent the landing of Russian aircraft.

On Wednesday night in New York, addressing an emergency session of the UN Security Council, Secretary-General António Guterres said: “President Putin, stop your troops from attacking the Ukraine. Give peace a chance.”

Shortly afterwards, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US believed a “full-scale invasion” of Ukraine was imminent”.

“Tonight, we’re seeing the Russians close airspace, move troops into Donbass and move forces into combat ready positions,” she said.

“This is a perilous moment. And we are here for one reason and one reason only, to ask Russia to stop return to your borders. Send your troops and your tanks and your planes back to their barracks and hangers and send your diplomats to the negotiating table.”

Her comments echoed those of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who told told NBC he could not predict when Russia would invade Ukraine but warned it could be imminent. He said: “Look, I can’t put a date or an exact time on it but everything is in place for Russia to move forward.”

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