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IANS

While announcing that a UN official will spearhead a diplomatic effort for a ceasefire in Ukraine, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he has been in "very close contact" with India on mediation efforts.

The UN chief said on Monday that he has asked Under-Secretary-General Martin Griffiths "immediately to explore with the parties involved the possible agreements and arrangements for a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine".

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 causing a wide swath of devastation, creating a humanitarian crisis that has uprooted 10 million people and killed more than a thousand civilians, according to the UN.

Griffiths, who oversees the UN's humanitarian and emergency initiatives, "will immediately start" his diplomacy and has already made some contacts, Guterres told reporters.

"I hope that he will be able to go to both Moscow and Kiev as soon as that becomes possible. It's very important to establish a serious dialogue with both parties in relation to the possibility of this humanitarian ceasefire."

He said that he was taking the initiative "in the exercise of my good offices" -- a function that has accrued to the Secretary-General in maintaining peace.

About the various diplomatic efforts, he said: "I've been in close contact with several countries that have been talking to the parties at the highest level in order to explore the different forms of mediation leading to a political solution

"I've been in very close contact with our Turkish friends, with Qatar, with Israel, with India, China but also France, Germany.

"It is my belief that all these efforts are essential in order to create the conditions to allow for, finally, this war to come to an end."

In a phone conversation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked Russia's President Vladimir Putin to hold direct talks with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the External Affairs Ministry.

In the separate calls with them, he called for an end to the conflict and urged direct talks while hearing them brief him about their positions.

Guterres said that he thought "this is the moment" for the UN to take the initiative for a ceasefire because resolution drafts presented by both Russia and Ukraine made references to a ceasefire.

"I strongly appeal to the parties to this conflict, and to the international community as a whole, to work with us for peace in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and across the world."

Asked about the threats of nuclear attack by Russia, the UN chief said: "I can't imagine the possibility of having a nuclear, a biological or a chemical war in this scenario."

Regarding the attacks by Russia on nuclear facilities in Ukraine, Guterres said that in the next few days the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will take "very important initiatives" to guarantee the security of the Ukrainian nuclear facilities.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi is in very close contact with Russian and Ukrainian authorities for this, he added.

He said that 1,000 UN personnel were carrying out relief operations in Ukraine and with their partners have reached 900,000 people.

"But let's be clear, the solution to this humanitarian tragedy is not humanitarian, it is political."

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been a personal betrayal for Guterres who had said that he did not think Moscow would invade its neighbour.

Even a week before the invasion began, his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on February 17 that Guterres "continues to think that this conflict will not happen".

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