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Ukraine: Security Council hears of escalating toll of Kharkiv attacks

Briefing the Security Council in New York, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya urged the international community to work to end the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, now in its third year.

Ms. Msuya said the civilian toll has continued to mount since her last briefing to the Council three weeks ago.

Kharkiv under fire 

While few areas have been spared from the hostilities, the Kharkiv region has suffered the heaviest impact after Russia stepped up attacks there on 10 May. 

UN human rights monitors in Ukraine reported on Friday that at least 174 people were killed and 690 injured nationwide in May, marking the highest number of civilian casualties in nearly a year.  

More than half of them were in Kharkiv, located in the northeast of the country.

“Shopping centres, homes, educational establishments, shops, office buildings, parks and public transport have all been struck in recent weeks,” she said.

An aid worker registers an evacuated woman for multi-purpose cash assistance at the transit centre.
© OCHA/Tanya Lyubimova

An aid worker registers an evacuated woman for multi-purpose cash assistance at the transit centre.

Supporting displaced people 

At least 18,000 people in the Kharkiv region have been newly displaced, she added, citing estimates from UN migration agency IOM.  

Some 50 humanitarian organizations have been providing food, water, clothes, cash, psychological support and other assistance to more than 12,000 people at a transit centre in Kharkiv city. 

Meanwhile, civilians who remain in frontline and border areas with Russia face dire conditions, as many are cut off from access to food, medical care, electricity and gas.  Elderly people have been disproportionately affected as they often are unable or reluctant to leave their homes. 

“In northern Kharkiv – where the fighting is heaviest – more than half of those killed or injured have been over the age of 60,” she said. 

The UN human rights office, OHCHR, has verified that at least 11,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine, and more than 21,000 injured, since the conflict began on 24 February 2022, although actual figures are likely much higher.  

Infrastructure attacks continue 

Ms. Msuya noted that a year has passed since the Kakhova Dam disaster, “one of the most significant incidents affecting civilian infrastructure since the start of the full-scale invasion.” 

The major dam was destroyed on 6 June 2023, resulting in monumental flooding that left large swathes of the surrounding area under water, destroying homes, displacing thousands of families, and disrupting water supplies for millions. 

It showed just how extensive and long-lasting the humanitarian impacts of a single incident affecting critical infrastructure can be,” she said.  “That is why it is deeply concerning that systematic attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure – a feature of this war since February 2022 – continue.” 

Since 22 March, the UN and partners have identified six waves of attacks across 15 regions which have impacted healthcare and other social, financial and transport services, and disrupted electricity, gas and water supply for millions. 

Energy affected, global food supply threatened 

Ms. Msuya said Ukraine’s energy system is now down over 60 per cent of its pre-war generation capacity, according to preliminary estimates from the UN Development Programme (UNDP). 

“We note that strikes inside the Russian Federation in recent months, including in the Belgorod region, have also resulted in civilian casualties and damage to residential homes and other civilian infrastructure,” she said.

She also voiced deep concern over the impact of attacks on Ukraine’s transportation and port infrastructure on global food security.  Recent weeks have seen “worrying indications of renewed upwards pressure on global grain prices, linked to this damage to infrastructure in Ukraine, among other factors.” 

She stressed the need for safe navigation throughout the Black Sea, and the protection of ports and related civilian infrastructure, so that food exports can reach global markets. 

A Ukrainian teenager stands in the rubble of her destroyed school in Zhytomyr (file).
© UNICEF/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

A Ukrainian teenager stands in the rubble of her destroyed school in Zhytomyr (file).

‘Vast’ humanitarian needs 

Turning to the humanitarian front, Ms. Msuya reported that needs remain “vast” as more than 14.6 million Ukrainians, roughly 40 per cent of the population, require some form of assistance. More than half are women and girls. 

A $3.1 billion funding appeal for 2024 has so far netted $856 million, allowing humanitarians to provide assistance to more than four million people during the first quarter of the year.  

She pointed to the “many challenges” humanitarians continues to face, chiefly lack of access to some 1.5 million civilians in Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. 

“And as the conflict continues to escalate, and we look to kickstart preparations for another winter dominated by war, full funding of the humanitarian response plan is urgently needed to sustain operations,” she stressed. 

End the suffering 

Ms. Msuya said that fighting continues to rip apart lives, homes and futures in Ukraine more than three years since the escalation of the war, and the UN and partners remain committed to support affected civilians. 

She warned, however, that “the longer the violence and destruction continue, the greater the suffering will become, and the bigger the task to rebuild shattered lives and communities.” 

Concluding her remarks, she welcomed the Ukraine Recovery Conference that will be held in Berlin next week, calling it a key opportunity to advance the Government’s recovery priorities and leverage financing for critical development in affected areas. 

“And we continue to urge the Security Council and all Member States to do everything within their power to ensure respect for the rules of war, pursue peace and bring the suffering of the Ukrainian people to an end.” 

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