What's In Blue

Ukraine: Briefing on Humanitarian Developments

Tomorrow afternoon (14 May), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The meeting was requested by Ecuador and France, the co-penholders on humanitarian issues in Ukraine. OCHA’s Director for Financing and Partnerships, Lisa Doughten, and Director of Operations for the Conflict Observatory team based at the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab, Caitlin Howarth, are the anticipated briefers. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

The war in Ukraine continues to have devastating consequences for civilians. As at 10 May, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) had documented 32,100 civilian casualties, including at least 10,946 deaths, while noting that the true figures are likely to be considerably higher. UNICEF confirmed on 13 May that nearly 2,000 children have been killed or injured in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of the country in February 2022, highlighting that the number of child fatalities this year has increased by almost 40 percent compared to 2023. Furthermore, according to an 18 April OCHA situation report, 14.6 million people—roughly 40 percent of Ukraine’s population—are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, while approximately 9.7 million people have been forcibly displaced by the war. That figure includes almost 3.7 million internally displaced people and six million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries.

Russia has continued air assaults on military and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, causing extensive damage to energy facilities, disrupting electricity access for millions of Ukrainians, and compromising water supply in certain areas. Missile and drone attacks have also hindered essential services and aid operations. As at 10 May, the HRMMU reported that these attacks have damaged or destroyed nearly 500 medical facilities and 1,144 educational facilities, significantly affecting healthcare and disrupting education for children. According to UNICEF, almost one million children in Ukraine lack access to any in-person learning due to ongoing insecurity.

On 10 May, Russia launched an offensive operation along the Russia-Ukraine border, targeting a series of villages in the northern Kharkiv region in Ukraine. The town of Vovchansk has reportedly become a central point in the intensified hostilities. According to local authorities, nearly 6,000 people have been evacuated from the Kharkiv region since the onset of the Russian ground attack. A 12 May OCHA humanitarian impact flash update highlighted that the deteriorating security situation is escalating humanitarian needs in the region.

Tomorrow, Council members may be interested in receiving an update from Doughton on the humanitarian situation in Kharkiv and other frontline areas in eastern Ukraine, including the Donetsk region. Some members might stress the importance of the Conflict Observatory’s findings, particularly for documenting alleged gross violations of international law and war crimes in Ukraine. Doughton is likely to reiterate key messages regarding the importance of securing unimpeded humanitarian access to frontline communities and the need for all parties to adhere to the principles of international humanitarian law.

Council members are likely to reiterate their established positions on the war in Ukraine, with most expressing continued concerns about the humanitarian situation, the protection of civilians and civilian objects, and the safety and security of nuclear facilities. In a 9 May statement, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi described the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) as precarious. He noted that the IAEA team of experts stationed at the plant regularly reported signs of military activities near the site.

Some members may accuse Russia of using chemical weapons against Ukrainian forces in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). On 1 May, the US announced new sanctions against Russia for its “full-scale war and use of chemical weapons against Ukraine”, specifically citing the use of chloropicrin, which is listed under Schedule 3 of the CWC, and riot control agents as methods of warfare. The US alleged that the use of these chemicals is not an isolated incident but a likely strategic move by Russian forces to “dislodge Ukrainian forces from fortified positions and achieve tactical gains on the battlefield”.

Russia has rejected allegations that its forces have used chemical weapons banned by the CWC in Ukraine. At a 1 May press briefing, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov described the US accusations as “absolutely odious and unsubstantiated”. He argued that the US aims to “intimidate [Russia’s] partners, including China, to block the channels of normal foreign trade cooperation”.

In a 7 May statement, the spokesperson for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) recognised that Russia and Ukraine have exchanged accusations and reported allegations of chemical weapons use to the OPCW since the start of the war in February 2022. However, the information provided to the OPCW, along with other available evidence, remains insufficiently substantiated. The spokesperson noted that a formal request by states parties to the CWC is needed for the OPCW Secretariat to undertake any activities related to these allegations. The statement underlined the volatile situation and the grave concern regarding the potential resurgence of using toxic chemicals as weapons.

Russia is expected to condemn the recent attacks on the Russian city of Belgorod. The latest incident on 12 May involved a missile strike on an apartment building, resulting in its collapse and the reported deaths of at least 15 people. Russia’s Permanent Mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has labelled the incident a “terrorist attack”, also claiming that the weapons were supplied by NATO countries.

Looking ahead, the Security Council is also scheduled to convene on 20 May, at Russia’s request, for a briefing on Ukraine under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item.

Tags: ,
Sign up for What's In Blue emails

Subscribe to receive SCR publications