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The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is a growing concern as at least 117 children have been killed as of Tuesday, though the true figure is likely higher, and aid organizations estimate areas that have seen some of the most intense fighting have just three to four days of essentials, such as food.
According to its most recent report published Tuesday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed at least 925 civilians have been killed and 1,496 have been injured in Ukraine since the onset of the Russian invasion 27 days ago on Feb. 24. Estimates of Russian deaths vary, but even conservative figures are in the low thousands.
In an address to Italian Parliament Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that at least 117 children have died so far in the first 27 days of the war in his country.
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“And we know that every next day of war will take more lives of our children. 117 is not the final number,” he said. “The Russian invasion will still destroy families and destinies.”
That means at least 38 more children have been killed since Zelenskyy spoke at a rally in Florence and to European leaders more than a week ago, urging them to remember the number 79.
“Such is the price of procrastination,” Zelenskyy told Italian parliament of the dozens more children dead. “Calling for pressure on Russia to stop this cruel war. 117 children, thousands of adults. Thousands of people are injured. Tens of thousands of families devastated. Hundreds of thousands of destroyed destinies. Millions and millions of abandoned homes. And it all started with one man.”
More than 70,000 Ukrainian refugees, including some 25,000 children, are currently in Italy, Zelenskyy said, noting in connection to pregnant refugees, that the first Ukrainian baby was born in Italy.
The global nongovernmental organization Mercy Corps said Tuesday that one of the largest areas of concern in Ukraine is the vulnerability of the supply chain. Most municipalities that have seen some of the heaviest fighting only have between three and four days of food as “the humanitarian system is entirely broken down,” Mercy Corps’ Ukraine humanitarian response adviser, Steve Gordon, told CNN.
While the U.N. has been able to get aid to some areas, humanitarian corridors have been largely blocked and compared to what’s normally a “high-functioning, coordinated international aid effort” in other conflict zones, many people in Ukraine are only surviving due to small Ukrainian civil society organizations, including church volunteers, who are coordinating deliveries of food and medical supplies, he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces are increasingly concentrating their air power and artillery on Ukraine’s cities and the civilians living there. Moscow’s invasion has driven nearly 3.5 million people from Ukraine, according to the U.N., with another 6.5 million displaced inside the country.
U.S. and British officials say Kyiv remains Russia’s primary objective. The bulk of Moscow’s forces remain miles from the city center, but missiles and artillery have destroyed apartment buildings and a large shopping mall, which was left a smoking ruin after being hit late Sunday by strikes that killed eight people, according to emergency officials.
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The OHCHR said it believes that the actual figures for civilian casualties are considerably higher, especially in territory still controlled by the Ukrainian government and especially in recent days.
The U.N. agency said information has been delayed and many reports are pending corroboration from areas where intense hostilities have been going on such as in the southern port city of Mariupol and Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Izium in the Kharkiv region, Sievierodonetsk and Rubizhne in the Luhansk region, and Trostianets in Sumy region, amid claims of numerous civilian casualties there.
In areas like Sumy, there are about 800,000 people “nearly entirely reliant” on aid shipped in on a day-to-day basis, Gordon said.
In Mariupol, with communications crippled, movement restricted and many residents in hiding, the fate of those inside an art school flattened on Sunday and a theater that was blown apart four days earlier was unclear. More than 1,300 people were believed to be sheltering in the theater, and 400 were estimated to have been in the art school.
It is not clear how close Mariupol’s capture might be. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that their forces were still defending the city and had destroyed a Russian patrol boat and electronic warfare complex.
Over the weekend, Moscow had offered safe passage out of Mariupol — one corridor leading east to Russia, another going west to other parts of Ukraine — in return for the city’s surrender before daybreak Monday. Ukraine flatly rejected the offer well before the deadline.
Mariupol had a prewar population of about 430,000. Around a quarter were believed to have left in the opening days of the war, and tens of thousands escaped over the past week by way of the humanitarian corridors. Other attempts have been thwarted by the fighting. Mariupol’s officials said on March 15 that at least 2,300 people had died in the siege, with some buried in mass graves. There has been no official estimate since then, but the number is feared to be far higher after six more days of bombardment.
Zelenskyy’s count of dead children was two more than the 115 total recorded by the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine as of 8 a.m. local time Monday. At least 148 more children had been injured by then, according to the prosecutor’s office. The U.N. said it was still working to corroborate a report from the Head of the Investigative Department of the National Police of Kharkiv Region saying 276 civilians, including 15 children, had been killed in the region as of Monday at 6 p.m. local time.
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The OHCHR has been documenting civilian casualties in Ukraine since 2014, the same year Russia annexed Crimea, but since the Russian military invaded on Feb. 24, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has been unable to visit places of incidents and interview witnesses and victims.
As a result, the U.N. explained that the usual method of corroboration and crosschecking information was disrupted in Ukraine, so the current figures are based on individual civilian casualty records where the “reasonable grounds to believe” standard of proof was met.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.