As fighting following the Russian invasion has reached densely populated areas across the country, the UN Children’s Fund, warned on Monday that child casualties are expected to rise in Ukraine
The constraints humanitarian workers are facing and the rapidly shifting front lines are making the delivery of life-saving aid much more difficult, said UNICEF’s executive director, Catherine Russell.
In her first briefing to the Security Council since taking office last month, she described the plight of Ukrainian children as “a moral outrage.” She warned that the escalation of hostilities poses an “immediate” threat to eight million youngsters who have already suffered “profound and lasting” harm inflicted by eight years of conflict with Russia that culminated last month in the invasion.
“Images of a mother and her two children and a friend lying dead on the street (must) shock the conscience of the world,” Russell said.
The UN has recorded 1,207 civilian casualties in Ukraine since the war began on Feb. 24. Of those, at least 27 are children. At least 42 youngsters have been wounded.
“Countless more have been severely traumatized,” added Russell.
Monday’s meeting was the Security Council’s second in a week to discuss the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. During the first, on Feb. 28, several council members accused Russia of causing the humanitarian crisis through its military operations and called on Moscow to refrain from using heavy explosives in populated areas.
Some members, including Kenya, cautioned against the use of unilateral economic sanctions against Russia on the grounds that they would be likely to have serious humanitarian consequences and could lead to a further escalation of the conflict.
As the armed conflict intensifies, the human costs “are increasing exponentially by the day,” Russell said. She warned that the displacement crisis is certain to escalate rapidly as well.
The UN reports that more than 1.7 million refugees, about half of them children, are fleeing to other countries.
Russell, who had just returned from a visit to the border between Romania and Ukraine, told the council that children are being taken out of schools and from their homes at a moment’s notice to escape the fighting. As a result they are “losing beloved toys” and many have been traumatized by “the terrifying sound of shelling and gunfire.”
She described homes, schools, orphanages and hospitals coming under attack, and civilian infrastructure such as water supplies and sanitation facilities being indiscriminately hit, leaving millions without access to safe sources of water.
“For many, life has moved underground as families seek safety in shelters, subways or basements,” said Russell. “Women are giving birth in makeshift maternity wards with limited medical supplies.
“Most stores are closed, making it hard for people to buy essential items, including basic necessities for children such as diapers and medication. And even if stores were open, millions of people are too afraid to venture outside for food or water because of continuous shelling and shouting.
“We must act to protect children from this brutality.”
The UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, lamented the failure to meet the needs of civilians, but informed the council of new plans that are being discussed by his team in Moscow to deliver humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol, Kharkiv and Kherson, including civilian-military coordination to boost the deliveries.
The French ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Riviere, who along with his Mexican counterpart called for Monday’s meeting, said achieving a cessation of hostilities should be the council’s top priority.
“This is indispensable to protect the civilian population and to ensure humanitarian access,” he said. “International humanitarian law has to be respected.”
France and Mexico have initiated discussions among council members on a draft resolution addressing the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.
“The Security Council must assume its responsibilities and put an end to this humanitarian tragedy,” de Riviere said. “And we should start by taking swift humanitarian action to help those in need.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US permanent representative to the UN, told the council that “it is clear Mr. Putin has a plan to brutalize Ukraine.”
She added: “In the end, Russia will be weaker, not stronger, for launching this war.”
Thomas-Greenfield said 100 refugees are crossing into Poland every minute, and the US “is increasingly concerned about the protection of civilians in this conflict, particularly women and girls who are vulnerable to gender-based violence, LGBTQI Ukrainians, as well as Ukraine’s population of older adults and people with disabilities.
“The question is how much devastation President Putin is willing to wreak for this enormous mistake,” she added.
Russia denies that its military operation has had any effect on Ukraine’s infrastructure or caused any civilian deaths.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said UNICEF should base its views on what he called reliable information. He repeated his accusation that civilians safety has been threatened by “Ukrainian radicals and neo-Nazi battalions” who, he said, are using civilians as human shields. He also accused them of holding hostage more than 1,500 foreigners, including Africans.