U.N. aid agencies are ramping up humanitarian operations in Ukraine as Russia's bombing of civilian residential areas and infrastructure escalates and civilian casualties mount.
The Ukrainian government reports Russian airstrikes have killed hundreds of people and wounded more than 1,600. U.N. human rights office estimates are more conservative, but officials say the real toll is likely to be much higher than their monitors have been able to verify.
A spokesman for the U.N. children’s fund, James Elder, is in Lviv in western Ukraine. He says the city is in utter turmoil, with thousands of people seeking to escape the fighting. Given the chaotic situation, he says it is not possible to know how many people, including children, are being killed.
"We know that thousands and thousands are at risk. And we know that more children, gut-wrenchingly are going to die or be injured in this unless fighting ends…There are tens of thousands of children in orphanages in Ukraine," said Elder. "Many of those are in major cities, which are under bombardment right now. So, we hold the gravest fears for all these children.”
Elder says UNICEF has been working on both sides of what is known as the contact line. This is the 500-kilometer zone separating Russian-backed territories in eastern Ukraine from the rest of the country. He says the agency aims to increase its support to tens of thousands of vulnerable people across the country.
The World Health Organization representative in Poland, Paloma Cuchi, says the agency is preparing to help a potentially massive number of refugees arriving from Ukraine. Speaking from the Polish capital, Warsaw, she says arrivals who are injured will need treatment. She says there will be a need to prevent and treat people with communicable diseases such as tuberculosis.
"We are seeing a need to provide assistance and vaccinations for COVID-19," said Cuchi. "We are seeing since there are many kids coming, we are also seeing that there is a need for routine vaccinations like measles or treating people with pre-existing conditions—you know like diabetes, cancer, heart problems.”
Cuchi says a first shipment of medicines and medical supplies was expected in Poland Wednesday. She also says experts in mental health, as well as health interventions and emergency operations, also are being deployed.
The World Food Program is launching a three-month emergency operation to provide food assistance for people fleeing the conflict. The WFP says it will scale up aid to reach up to 3.1 million people affected by the fighting inside Ukraine. It adds WFP staff will be on standby to assist refugees in neighboring countries.
The U.N. refugee agency reports the number of Ukrainian refugees has increased by 114,000 since Tuesday and now stands at more than 874,000.