19. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which the European Union, the United Nations and the international community, in general, are in a position to bring about a peaceful solution to the situation in Ukraine, with particular reference to the need to establish safe areas and zones for the civilian population; if European Union or United Nations peacekeepers will be effectively deployed to the area, at an early date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8280/15 asked on 26 Feb 2015)

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The EU has been at the forefront of international efforts to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, which has claimed over 5,500 lives, left many thousands more injured and forced almost a million people to flee their homes.

The conflict has had a devastating impact on local civilian populations in eastern Ukraine who have endured dreadful suffering since fighting broke out in the Donbas region over ten months ago. I am appalled, in particular, at the rising number of civilian casualties in recent weeks as a direct consequence of the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in the conflict zone.

The welfare of civilians caught up in the hostilities is a major concern and I fully support EU calls on all sides to respect International Humanitarian Law. It is vital that the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers is ensured and that unhindered humanitarian access is granted to populations in need, in line with humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. It is also essential that the OSCE Mission is permitted to freely undertake its important monitoring and verification work in all areas of the conflict region.

The most effective way of ensuring the safety of the civilian population is to stop the violence. On 12 February, an agreement was reached in Minsk on a new peace deal aimed at ending the fighting. The declaration agreed in Minsk by Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, President Putin and President Poroschenko and the package of measures signed by the parties to the conflict provides for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons in eastern Ukraine. The package also contains a timetable for the implementation of key parts of the September Minsk Agreements, which provide the basis for a comprehensive resolution of the crisis.

On 17 February, the UN Security Council unanimously called on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and abide by the commitments agreed in Minsk. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini has also issued a strong statement to this effect. I fully support the UN Security Council Resolution and the High Representative’s call, which also underlined the need for the agreed withdrawal of heavy weapons. It is critical that all parties honour their commitments to end the fighting and fully support a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine.

On 18 February, President Poroschenko raised the idea of deploying a UN-mandated peacekeeping force to eastern Ukraine. Russia and the separatists have reportedly rejected the suggestion, claiming that it was not part of the 12 February Minsk agreement.