UN: Russian Attacks Against Civilians in Ukraine May Amount to War Crimes

As civilian deaths and injuries in Ukraine grow, United Nations aid agencies warn indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure may amount to war crimes. The U.N. human rights office so far has recorded 1,564 civilian casualties, including 564 killed and 982 injured since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

U.N. aid agencies are calling for an immediate end to the attacks in Ukraine, noting the civilian death toll is probably much higher than has been reported.

The World Health Organization so far has verified 26 attacks on hospitals and other health facilities resulting in 12 deaths and 34 injuries. This includes the deadly airstrike on a maternity hospital Wednesday in the port city of Mariupol, which killed at least three people and injured 17.

The latest facility reportedly to be hit was a psychiatric institute near the city of Kharkiv. Ukrainian authorities say 330 people were in the hospital when it was attacked Friday morning and 73 were evacuated. Speaking from Lviv in western Ukraine, WHO spokesman Tarek Jasarevic says investigations are underway.

“We really condemn all attacks on health care facilities, health care personnel and patients. This is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. It deprives people access to health care. It puts in danger lives of patients and health care workers,” Jasarevic expressed.

Russia denies targeting civilians in Ukraine and claims it is carrying out a so-called special military operation against Ukrainian nationalists and neo-Nazis.

The U.N. human rights office reports civilians are being killed and maimed in what appear to be indiscriminate attacks. It says Russian forces have been using explosive weapons in or near populated areas. Besides airstrikes, it says Russian combatants have been hitting residential areas and civilian infrastructure with missiles, heavy artillery shells and rockets.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokeswoman Liz Throssel says there are credible reports of Russian forces having used cluster munitions in several cases, including in populated areas. Such attacks, she notes, violate the rules of war.

“Civilian casualties are rising daily, as we are seeing as is the general human suffering. We remind the Russian authorities that directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, as well as so-called bombardment in towns and villages and other forms of indiscriminate attacks, are prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.”

Separately, the U.N. refugee agency reports more than 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighboring countries for safety. At this rate, the UNHCR says it is likely its original estimate of 4 million refugees fleeing Ukraine will be exceeded.