U.N. and international aid agencies are calling for an end to hostilities in Ukraine as the number of civilian casualties grows and more people flee in terror to safety in neighboring countries. The latest U.N. figures put the number of civilian casualties at 1,335, including 474 people killed and 861 injured.
The U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which compiles the figures, believes the true number of casualties is much higher than what is recorded. That has led U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet to reiterate her call for a quick and peaceful end to the conflict, which she says has triggered a humanitarian crisis.
Her spokeswoman, Liz Throssell, says it is not possible to verify cases of civilian deaths and injuries in many parts of Ukraine because of ongoing hostilities.
She says most of the casualties are from airstrikes and explosive weapons used by Russian forces. She says heavy artillery and multiple rocket systems used in many cities have damaged and destroyed hundreds of residential buildings.
“We are alarmed by numerous reports of threats and actual harm against journalists…We are also concerned by reports of arbitrary detention of perceived pro-Ukrainian people in areas that have recently come under the control of armed groups in the east, and by reports of violence against those considered to be pro-Russian in Ukrainian government-controlled territories,” Throssell said.
The U.N. refugee agency says more than two million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring Poland, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and other European countries. However, Ewan Watson, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, says hundreds of thousands of people trapped in the port city of Mariupol are unable to escape.
“We stand ready to act in terms of our neutral intermediary role to facilitate the safe passage of civilians out of the city. But the bottom line today is that this situation is really apocalyptic for people. It is getting worse. They are running out of essential supplies. And so, our call today is for life-saving aid to reach these people, Watson said.”
A Russian proposal to create “humanitarian corridors” to allow people to safely leave Mariupol failed after a cease-fire agreement was not honored.
Aid agencies say priority needs include emergency shelter, health care, food, water and sanitation, and psychosocial support to help people deal with what aid groups call an epidemic of trauma and grief.