Türk deplores human cost of Russia’s war against Ukraine as verified civilian casualties for last year pass 21,000
21 February 2023
GENEVA (21 February 2023) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk today deplored the human cost of the war in Ukraine that has left at least 8,006 civilians dead and 13,287 injured over the past 12 months, in addition to the numerous lives previously lost in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“These numbers, which we are publishing today, lay bare the loss and suffering inflicted on people since Russia’s armed attack began on 24 February last year; suffering I saw for myself first hand when I visited Ukraine in December. And our data are only the tip of the iceberg. The toll on civilians is unbearable. Amid electricity and water shortages during the cold winter months, nearly 18 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Some 14 million people have been displaced from their homes,” Türk said.
“The very young to the very old have all been affected. Students have seen their education halted or disrupted by attacks on educational facilities, while older people and people with disabilities have faced immense challenges, in some cases unable to reach bomb shelters or having to spend prolonged periods in basements in conditions affecting their health,” the UN Human Rights Chief said. Most of those remaining in conflict-affected areas are older people, who are often reluctant or unable to leave dangerous areas.
“Every day that violations of international human rights and humanitarian law continue, it becomes harder and harder to find a way forward through mounting suffering and destruction, towards peace,” Türk stressed.
According to the UN Human Rights Office’s monitoring mission in Ukraine, of the adult civilian casualties whose sex was known, men accounted for 61.1 per cent of civilian casualties and women for 39.9 per cent. At least 487 children were killed and 954 injured.
Some 90.3 per cent of civilian casualties were caused by explosive weapons with wide area effects, including artillery shells, cruise and ballistic missiles, and air strikes. Most occurred in populated areas. The Office has also recorded 632 civilian casualties – 219 killed and 413 injured – caused by mines and explosive remnants of war.
The Office’s presence on the ground, which has been monitoring civilian casualties in Ukraine since 2014, has stressed that the actual figures are likely substantially higher, as its numbers only reflect verified individual cases.
The monitoring mission has received information regarding 21 civilian casualties – six killed and 15 injured – in the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, occupied by the Russian Federation. Many reports of civilian casualties are still pending corroboration in other occupied areas of Ukraine, notably in locations such as Mariupol (Donetsk region) and Lysychansk, Popasna, and Sievierodonetsk (Luhansk region).
In addition, the Office has information regarding 160 civilian casualties – 30 killed and 130 injured - in the territory of the Russian Federation. Given the lack of corroborating information to date, these figures have not been included in the total numbers.
Civilians were killed in their homes and while simply trying to meet their essential needs, such as collecting water and buying food. These included 67-year-old Olha, who was killed in a missile strike just metres from her flat in Kharkiv as she went to buy milk the day after the war began. Her friend told UN human rights monitors how she came down from their shared 15th floor apartment to find Olha lying dead in the street.
Serhii, a man in his 60s, choked back tears as he told human rights monitors how he saw his six-year-old granddaughter lose a leg in an artillery attack, when his house in a village near Kherson took a direct hit on 2 April 2022.
“Stories such as those of Olha and Serhii underscore the devastating price civilians on both sides of the frontline have paid and continue to pay,” Türk said.
“Efforts to establish accountability and justice for violations of international law must intensify and deepen. It is equally vital that victims are able to access reparations and the practical assistance they desperately need, without first having to wait for the outcomes of formal legal proceedings,” the High Commissioner said.
“This senseless war has reverberated across the world. Higher costs of food and fuel as a result have deepened misery on a global scale, especially among those who were already the most vulnerable. This war, which is a blatant affront to the UN Charter and the whole body of international law built to protect human beings everywhere, and its vast human toll must end now.”
For video soundbites, please contact Anthony.Headley@un.org