Ukraine: Briefing on Humanitarian Developments
Tomorrow (12 May) morning, the Security Council will hold a briefing on humanitarian developments in Ukraine under the agenda item “Maintenance of Peace and Security of Ukraine”. The meeting, which was requested by France and Mexico, will focus on the effects of the war on children. UNICEF Deputy Executive Director of Programmes Omar Abdi and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya are expected to brief. Ukraine and several of its neighbouring countries are expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
This will be the seventh time that the Council has held a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine since Russia launched its military assault on 24 February. While previous meetings had sought broadly to address the humanitarian situation (on 28 February, 7 March and 17 March), recent meetings have had a specific focus, including on the effects of the war on global food security (29 March), on women and children (11 April) and on refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees (19 April). (For more information, see our 10 April and 19 April What’s in Blue stories.)
Although hostilities are now concentrated in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine, several regions across the country continue to be affected by missile strikes, resulting in civilian casualties and considerable damage to civilian infrastructure. As at 11 May, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 7,256 civilian casualties, including 3,496 deaths, while noting that true figures are likely to be considerably higher. OHCHR confirmed that at least 238 children have been killed in Ukraine and 348 injured since Russia launched its military incursion nearly 11 weeks ago.
According to a general population survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as at 3 May, 13.6 million people—more than 30 percent of Ukraine’s population—had been forcibly displaced as a result of the war. This figure includes eight million IDPs and approximately 5.6 million refugees—around half of them children—who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries. The report notes that over 50 percent of IDP respondents indicated that at least one of their accompanying family members is a child between the ages of five and 17. Furthermore, more than a quarter of respondents who reported infants or children under five in their household say they have experienced problems in obtaining food for their children since the start of the war.
Thousands of civilians remain trapped in areas of active hostilities with limited opportunities to evacuate to safer areas. The situation in the eastern Donbas region and in parts of southern Ukraine remains challenging because of ongoing fighting and difficulties in establishing safe passages for civilians. According to a 6 May OCHA situation report, roughly 1,000 civilians were reportedly evacuated from areas of ongoing hostilities between 26 April and 4 May. Following Secretary-General António Guterres’ trip to Moscow and Kyiv on 26 and 28 April, respectively, the UN, in coordination with the ICRC, helped to evacuate 400 civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and nearby areas. In a 10 May press briefing, however, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq said that there could still be civilians in the plant.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Abdi is expected to describe the deleterious effects of the war on Ukraine’s children. He may express concern regarding ongoing reports of grave violations committed against children. (The six grave violations identified by the Security Council are child recruitment and use; killing and maiming; abductions; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; and the denial of humanitarian access.) Abdi is likely to call on parties to take all measures to protect children from harm, in accordance with applicable international law.
The war’s impact on children’s access to education is an expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting. As at 11 May, Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science had reported that 1,635 education facilities across the country have been damaged, and 126 of them destroyed, as a result of bombing and shelling. Abdi might note that challenges to children’s access to education in Ukraine’s eastern regions—which has faced difficulties since 2014 because of ongoing fighting between Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian separatists—have exacerbated since the outbreak of the war in February. According to a 4 May UNICEF report, at least one in six UNICEF-supported schools in eastern Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed since the war started.
Msuya may describe the work conducted by OCHA to provide support to children and their families. In this regard, she may comment on the support that OCHA and UNICEF provide to civilians who have been evacuated from Mariupol.
Several Council members are expected to condemn the targeting of critical infrastructure, particularly schools. In this regard, many speakers are likely to raise the 7 May missile attack on a school in the city of Bilohorivka, located in the eastern Luhansk region, where 90 people had reportedly sought shelter from the fighting. According to media reports, the Russian strike that targeted the school killed around 60 people. Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemned the attack in an 8 May tweet, referring to it as a “brutal war crime”. Guterres issued a statement on 8 May in which he said that he was appalled by the reported attack, noting that it serves as a reminder that civilians always pay the highest price in conflicts. On the same day, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell condemned the attack and stressed that schools must never be attacked or used for military purposes.
Some Council members are expected to reference the need to implement resolution 2601 of 29 October 2021 on the protection of education in conflict, which urges all parties to cease attacks and threats of attacks against schools. The resolution also calls on member states to facilitate access to education for children with disabilities, who are affected by armed conflict, and for refugee and displaced children. Some members may express concern about the conflict’s effects on children’s mental health and psychological wellbeing, recalling that resolution 2601 encourages member states and donors to integrate mental health and psychosocial services in humanitarian responses.
Council members are also expected to express concern about the safety of children in areas of active hostilities, as well as of children forcibly displaced as a result of the war. They may urge Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba to help ensure that the UN and partners on the ground are doing all in their power to protect the most vulnerable from the ongoing hostilities.
Several Council members may also raise concerns about allegations of sexual violence, including rape, perpetrated by Russian soldiers, and stress that conflict-related sexual violence constitutes a war crime. Ukraine may reiterate concerns that Russia is forcibly migrating civilians, including children, to Russia. At a Security Council briefing on 11 April, Ukraine claimed that Russia had “already taken more than 121,000 children out of Ukraine”, adding that “Russia is reported to have drafted a bill to simplify and accelerate the procedure for the adoption of abducted Ukrainian children, both orphans and those who have parents and other relatives”. The UN has said that it is unable to verify the number of people who have gone to Russia. According to Moscow, more than 1.1 million people, including 201,000 children, have crossed into its territory from Ukraine.
Russia is likely to reiterate its allegations that Ukrainian troops and militia have committed war crimes during the war. During the 11 April briefing on Ukraine, Russia claimed that Ukrainian “nationalist battalions” have committed “heinous tortures of civilians including women and children”.