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civilians in Ukraine

Civilians continue to flee the city of Irpin, Ukraine on March 11, 2022. (Photo: Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Civilians 'Paying the Highest Price' for 'Utter Devastation' of Ukraine: UN Official

Russia's "senseless war" has led over 2.5 million people to flee Ukraine and displaced another two million within the country, according to U.N. estimates.

Jessica Corbett

As Russia's forces were reportedly "pushing into smaller cities and encircling larger ones" across Ukraine on Friday, civilians continued to endure the devastating consequences of the invasion launched last month by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The utter devastation being visited on these cities is horrific."

"The situation is particularly alarming in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv, where there is shelling of residential areas and civilian infrastructure, resulting in an increasing number of civilians killed and injured," said Rosemary DiCarlo, United Nations under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs. "The utter devastation being visited on these cities is horrific."

"The numbers bear out the conclusion that civilians are paying the highest price for the conflict," she told the U.N. Security Council.

While Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba posted higher numbers on Twitter Friday, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recorded at least 1,546 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 564 killed and 982 injured.

Noting the OHCHR figures, DiCarlo acknowledged that the true toll is "likely considerably higher, as information from locations where intense hostilities are ongoing has been delayed and reports are still pending corroboration."

The U.N. official continued:

Most of the recorded civilian casualties, which include children, have been caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and airstrikes.

OHCHR has received credible reports of Russian forces using cluster munitions, including in populated areas. Indiscriminate attacks, including those using cluster munitions, which are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction, are prohibited under international humanitarian law.

Direct attacks against civilians and civilian objects, as well as so-called area bombardment in towns and villages, are also prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.

"We cannot emphasize it enough: The targeting of civilians, of residential buildings, hospitals, schools, kindergartens, is inexcusable and intolerable," she added, demanding investigations into violations of international law, aid for displaced people, allowing safe passage for civilians, and negotiations to not only stop the war but also respect "Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, within its internationally recognized borders."

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, tweeted Friday that millions of people have been "forced to leave their homes by this senseless war."

Since the Russian invasion began on February 24, the number of people who have fled Ukraine for neighboring nations has topped 2.5 million, and the U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that another two million people are displaced within the country, according to Grandi.

"Access to conflict-affected communities in hard-hit areas like Mariupol and Kharkiv remains very restricted due to the ongoing military activities and increased presence of landmines, exacerbating humanitarian needs by the day," the agency said Friday. "Food, water, medicines and medical care, shelter, basic household items, blankets, mattresses, cash, building materials, generators, and fuel are urgently needed."

The New York Times reported that "the Russian military struck Ukrainian cities far from the main battle lines on Friday, pressing its strategy of bombing Ukraine into submission as the country plunged deeper into misery and privation more than two weeks into the war."

Detailing the dire conditions faced by civilians throughout Ukraine, the newspaper noted:

The situation is particularly catastrophic in Mariupol, where on Friday Pyotr Andryuschenko, an adviser to Mariupol's mayor, said it was impossible to tally bodies in the streets because the bombing had not let up.

"Since 6:00 am there has been no break: shelling, bombardment, shelling, bombardment," he said. "The last relatively safe places in the city are being shelled, and they are shooting at residential areas."

He added: "Humanity has not yet invented a word for what Russia is doing to us."

Footage of devastating scenes throughout Ukraine circulated on news networks and social media:

CNN published a list of key cities that Ukrainian officials said were under attack on Friday:

  • There was substantial damage to the airport at Lutsk in northwestern Ukraine, which is only about 70 miles (about 112 kilometers) from the Polish border.
  • The governor of the Volyn region said four missiles had been fired from a Russian bomber and two people were killed.
  • The military airfield at Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine was struck by missiles.
  • A missile strike on the outskirts of Dnipro killed one civilian and damaged a primary school building, apartment buildings, and a shoe factory.
  • There were also overnight airstrikes in the Brovary district just east of Kyiv and a missile strike in the town of Baryshivka, some 45 miles (about 72 kilometers) east of the capital.
  • A soccer stadium and library in Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine, have been badly damaged by an airstrike.

Meanwhile, in what the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry denounced as a "war crime," Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov has been detained for an investigation that the Russian-backed Luhansk regional prosecutor said related to alleged terrorism offenses.

In a Facebook post, the ministry said that "we call on the international community to respond immediately to the abduction of Ivan Fedorov and other civilians, and to increase pressure on Russia to end its barbaric war against the Ukrainian people."

While continuing to heed experts' warnings that implementing a no-fly zone over Ukraine—as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has advocated—would exacerbate the war on a global scale, the U.S. and European governments have taken various other steps over the past two weeks to pressure Putin to end the assault.

Zelenskyy tweeted Friday that he had a "substantive conversation" with U.S. President Joe Biden, during which the Ukrainian leader provided an "assessment of the situation on the battlefield" and information "about the crimes of Russia against the civilian population."

"We agreed on further steps to support the defense of Ukraine and increase sanctions," Zelenskyy said, while Biden called for suspending normal trade relations with Russia and announced the United States would ban imports of diamonds, seafood, and vodka from the invading nation.


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