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Ukraine: Civilian casualties mount as war enters second winter

Buildings destroyed by shelling in Izyum, Ukraine.
© UNICEF/Pashkina
Buildings destroyed by shelling in Izyum, Ukraine.

Ukraine: Civilian casualties mount as war enters second winter

Peace and Security

At least 10,000 civilians, including over 560 children, have been killed and more than 18,500 injured since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission there said on Tuesday.

The Monitoring Mission stated that the casualty figure represents deaths verified according to its methodology, cautioning that the actual figure may be significantly higher given the challenges and time required for verification.

“Ten thousand civilian deaths is a grim milestone for Ukraine,” said Danielle Bell, head of the Monitoring Mission, adding that the war, now entering into its 21st month, “risks evolving into a protracted conflict, with the severe human cost being painful to fathom.”

Monitoring also showed that a significant number of civilian casualties occurred far beyond the frontlines, primarily attributed to the Russian armed forces’ deployment of long-range missiles and loitering munitions against targets in populated areas across the country.

“Nearly half of civilian casualties in the last three months have occurred far away from the frontlines. As a result, no place in Ukraine is completely safe,” Ms. Bell warned.

Security Council meeting

Meanwhile, in New York, the UN Security Council met to discuss the situation in Ukraine, where ambassadors were briefed by senior officials.

Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Political Affairs, warned that there are indications that attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine may escalate further during the upcoming coldest season.

“The impact for millions of Ukrainians will be dire as they brace themselves for the second war-time winter,” he said.

Relentless conflict

Recent developments highlight the relentless nature of the conflict, he added, noting that Russian aerial attacks persist across the country, with Kyiv experiencing missile strikes for the first time in two months on 11 November.

While the capital escaped casualties that night, attacks on Kyiv and its surroundings continue, including drone strikes over the weekend. Other parts of Ukraine, including the city of Kherson, recaptured by Ukraine over a year ago, continue enduring regular intense bombardments, resulting in civilian deaths, Mr. Jenča said.

Miroslav Jenča (on screens) briefing the Security Council.
UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Miroslav Jenča (on screens) briefing the Security Council.

Humanitarian situation

He also informed Security Council members that the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating, exacerbated by attacks on energy infrastructure and anticipation of frigid weather conditions.

A Winter Response Plan, developed by the UN and its partners in collaboration with Ukrainian authorities, is in full swing, he said, calling for urgent international support to provide essential resources for 1.7 million people in need.

Continued contributions are also needed for the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine, he added, which is currently only 54 per cent funded.

Humanitarian agencies are unable to reach around four million Ukrainians in Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine due to limited access, Mr. Jenča said, stating:

“Humanitarian partners are ready to expand operations in these areas – if given access and adequate support.”

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Domestic and global food security

Also briefing the Council, Matthew Hollingworth, Country Director for the World Food Programme (WFP), spoke of the impact of the Russian invasion on food security within Ukraine and globally.

“Today, because of hostilities, Ukrainians are being cut off from accessing markets to buy food, and farmers have reported that they can no longer produce food – a situation that has a dramatic impact inside and outside of Ukraine,” he said.

The situation is particularly dire in settlements near front lines, amid fears that it will only worsen in the winter.

“Around one in five Ukrainian families face some level of severe food insecurity. The closer someone lives to hostilities, the more critical are those needs,” he said.

Impact over years to come

Mr. Hollingworth also informed ambassadors that fields in Ukraine are contaminated with mines and unexploded ordnance and households are unable to grow food to feed themselves.

He added that if attacks on such food infrastructure and the blockage of sea export routes continue, “it will dramatically impact the agricultural production outlook over years to come.”

“This export of produce means that people are fed around the world. It is important to remember that Ukraine accounted for nine per cent of global wheat exports, 15 per cent of maize export, and 44 per cent of sunflower oil exports before February 2022,” he said.