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Ukraine civilians

A Ukrainian woman walks by apartment building damaged by Russian shelling in Kharkiv on March 8, 2022. (Photo: Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Worsens as Russian Attacks on Civilians Intensify

"Civilians are paying the highest price for a war that has nothing to do with them," lamented U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. "This senseless violence must stop."

Brett Wilkins

Amid new reports Thursday of noncombatants killed and wounded by Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, human rights advocates joined United Nations officials in expressing their horror and accusing Russia of possible war crimes.

"We don't understand how it's possible in modern life to bomb a children's hospital. People cannot believe that it's true."

BBC reports three people including a child were killed and 17 others were injured Wednesday in a Russian airstrike on a maternity and children's hospital in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, with patients and staff trapped beneath the rubble caused by the attack.

"We don't understand how it's possible in modern life to bomb a children's hospital," Mariupol Deputy Mayor Serhiy Orlov told the BBC. "People cannot believe that it's true."

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Catherine Russell said she was "horrified" by the attack, which, "if confirmed, underscores the horrific toll this war is exacting on Ukraine's children and families."

"In less than two weeks, at least 37 children have been killed and 50 injured," she continued, "while more than one million children have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries."

"Attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure—including hospitals, water and sanitation systems, and schools—are unconscionable and must stop immediately," Russell added. "UNICEF renews its call for an immediate cease-fire and urges all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect children from harm, and to ensure that humanitarian actors can safely and quickly reach children in need. The children of Ukraine desperately need peace."

Kate White, emergency manager at Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement that "attacks on health structures destroy what little capacity is left to treat urgent cases. In a city, where the health system is close to collapse, depriving people of much-needed healthcare is a violation of the laws of war."

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that it had verified 26 attacks on health facilities, healthcare workers, and ambulances throughout Ukraine, resulting in 12 deaths and 34 injuries, and that "more incidents are being verified."

"These attacks deprive all communities of healthcare," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, adding that the "only real solution to the situation is peace."

Earlier this week, officials accused Russian forces of shelling a so-called "humanitarian corridor" out of Mariupol they had reportedly promised not to attack.

According to Orlov, at least 1,170 civilians have been killed in Mariupol during the course of the war. The deputy mayor claimed 47 people were buried in a mass grave on Wednesday. However, BBC notes his claim has not been independently verified.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Wednesday that it has recorded 516 civilian deaths and 908 injuries since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. However, the agency noted that "OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher."

On Tuesday, officials in the northeastern city of Sumy said 21 civilians including two children were killed in a Russian attack on a residential neighborhood. 

On Thursday, Amnesty International said a Russian airstrike that reportedly killed 47 civilians in Chernihiv on March 3 "may constitute a war crime."

Local authorities said that 38 men and nine women, many of them waiting in line to buy bread, were killed when eight Russian bombs struck a public square and several buildings at 12:15 pm local time.

"Everything started to suddenly crumble and fall," Yulia Matvienko, a 33-year-old mother of three who was in her home near the site of the strike, told Amnesty. "The children screamed. For several seconds, it was like there was silence and time stood still. Then I dragged my children out from under the rubble."

"Blood was flowing down me, and I dragged my children out," Matvienko—who suffered a head injury in the strike—continued. "Everything was destroyed, and the door was knocked off. Not a single window was left, and some balconies were totally torn off. There is not a scratch on the children. It's a miracle… [there was] only my blood on them."

Joanne Mariner, Amnesty's crisis response director, said in a statement that "the airstrike that hit the streets of Chernihiv shocks the conscience. This was a merciless, indiscriminate attack on people as they went about their daily business in their homes, streets, and shops."

"This shocking attack is one of the deadliest that the people of Ukraine have endured yet," she added. "The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court should investigate this airstrike as a war crime. Those responsible for such crimes must be brought to justice, and victims and their families must receive full reparation."

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