What's In Blue

Posted Thu 6 Jun 2024

Ukraine: Briefing on Humanitarian Developments

Tomorrow morning (7 June), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. France requested the meeting in light of the intensification of Russian attacks against the north-eastern Kharkiv region. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya is the anticipated briefer. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

On 10 May, Russia launched a ground offensive along the Russia-Ukraine border, targeting several villages in the Kharkiv region. As at 22 May, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that over 17,300 people had been displaced from the areas most affected by the fighting, many of whom sought refuge in Kharkiv city, Ukraine’s second largest city. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) confirmed that, between 10 and 25 May, at least 35 civilians were killed and 137 injured in the Kharkiv region. It further noted that people over the age of 60 accounted for more than half of the casualties in the region’s northern part—which has seen the heaviest fighting—demonstrating the “disproportionate number of older people in border and front-line areas unable or unwilling to leave their homes even amid increased violence”.

The ground invasion into the Kharkiv region was followed by an increase in aerial strikes targeting Kharkiv city, with a 26 May HRMMU statement saying that they city’s residents have been living with “daily air-raid alerts amid intensifying Russian attacks”. On 25 May, Ukrainian authorities reported that a Russian strike that hit a large store in Kharkiv killed at least 18 people, including a 12-year-old girl, and injured approximately 50, making it one of the deadliest attacks witnessed in Ukraine in weeks. This was the second attack in the span of three days causing multiple casualties in Kharkiv city; a missile strike on 23 May hit a printing plant, killing seven employees, according to the HRMMU’s 25 May statement. At tomorrow’s meeting, Msuya and many Council members are expected to express concern about the escalation of the situation in the Kharkiv region, while underscoring that international humanitarian law strictly prohibits attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure.

On 30 May, the US authorised Ukraine to use US-provided rockets and artillery to conduct, for the purpose of defending the Kharkiv region, limited strikes inside Russia against forces that are attacking or preparing for attack. US officials have reportedly emphasised that this authorisation does not change the US policy prohibiting Ukraine from using US-provided long-range missiles and other munitions to strike offensively inside Russia. In recent weeks, several European countries—including France and the UK—have also implied that their weapons may be used to strike targets inside Russia. The Council is expected to convene for a meeting on 14 June to discuss these developments, at Russia’s request. Tomorrow, Russia is likely to accuse the US and Kyiv’s other Western allies of fuelling the conflict by supplying weapons to Ukraine.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Msuya may also describe the ongoing detrimental effects of the war on civilians across Ukraine. A 24 May OCHA situation report noted that 14.6 million people in Ukraine require humanitarian assistance, while approximately 9.3 million people have been forcibly displaced by the war. That figure includes almost 3.4 million internally displaced people and six million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries. According to a 31 May UN report on “the continued impact of the war on children’s rights in Ukraine”, nearly 1.5 million children are among the six million refugees, and 800,000 children are estimated to be internally displaced in Ukraine. The report added that more than 600 Ukrainian children have been killed and at least 1,420 injured since Russia’s invasion of the country in February 2022.

Msuya and some Council members may express concern about the contraction of humanitarian space resulting from the deteriorating security situation. A 14 May OCHA humanitarian access snapshot noted that during March and April, ten out of 11 incidents involving violence against humanitarian assets and facilities occurred in the front-line regions of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. Several Council members may emphasise the importance of ensuring the safety of humanitarian personnel; some might reference in this regard resolution 2730 on the protection of humanitarian personnel and UN and associated personnel and their premises and assets, which was adopted on 24 May.

At the Council’s latest meeting on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, held on 14 May, OCHA’s Director for Financing and Partnerships Lisa Doughten described an “intensified pattern of attacks on civilian infrastructure” across Ukraine, noting that the UN and its partners have documented five waves of attacks directed against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since 22 March. She added that the Kharkiv and Dnipro regions have been particularly affected by such attacks, saying that Ukraine’s Energy Ministry reported that up to 250,000 residents had experienced rolling power outages in Kharkiv and ongoing restrictions in Dnipro since March. Doughten also expressed concern about reports of attacks damaging energy infrastructure and oil refineries in Russia, adding that “such attacks risk inflaming the war further and worsening its humanitarian impacts”.

During the 14 May meeting, several Council members—including European members and the US—accused Russia of carrying out attacks deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure that run counter to the principles of distinction and proportionality. Russia denied these accusations, saying that it is targeting Ukrainian military facilities with high precision strikes. Members such as the UK and the US also alleged that Russia has been using Iranian-made uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) to carry out attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure and that Moscow continues to procure ballistic missiles and other munitions from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). These Council members may repeat similar messages at tomorrow’s meeting.

Some members may also reference other recent developments, such as the prisoner of war exchange announced by Ukraine and Russia on 31 May. According to media reports, the exchange—which was mediated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—included the return from Russia of 75 Ukrainian prisoners, including four civilians, and the return of 75 Russian prisoners held by Ukraine. This was the first such exchange between the sides in nearly four months. Additionally, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on 24 April that Qatari mediation efforts led to the release of 16 Ukrainian children who had been transferred to Russian territory and their reunification with their families.

There may also be references at tomorrow’s meeting to the high-level “summit on peace in Ukraine”, which will be held in Switzerland on 15 and 16 June. Switzerland has announced that “the overarching objective of the summit is to inspire a future peace process”. Participants at the summit expect to discuss such issues as nuclear safety; freedom of navigation and food safety; and humanitarian aspects, including detainee and prisoner exchange and the return of children. Russia has criticised the upcoming summit and will not attend. During the Council’s latest meeting on the transfer of Western weapons to Ukraine, held on 20 May, Russia said that the summit’s main objective is “to develop an ultimatum that is detached from reality and that will subsequently be imposed on our country”. Russia may repeat such messages at tomorrow’s meeting, whereas other Council members might encourage broad cross-regional participation at the upcoming summit.

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