Image: UNOCHA/Dmytro Smolienko
New York: A top UN Human Rights Council-appointed probe into potential rights abuses linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, outlined on Friday the “devastating” impact of the war on the country’s children.
After its latest official visit to the country, the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine expressed deep concern that threats to the rights and lives of youngsters were “constantly multiplying”.
Schools have been destroyed or demolished after nine months of war, while ensuring access to education has also proved very difficult in areas where Russian troops have withdrawn, such as Kharkiv and Kherson, the commissioners said.
Energy crimes focus
The fact-finding mission’s three Commissioners also explained that they had “devoted significant attention” to the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine – in particular, its energy and transportation grids.
“Both are preconditions for accessing rights, and civilian infrastructure is protected by international humanitarian law,” the Commissioners said in a statement, at a time of plummeting winter temperatures that have heightened concerns for Ukraine’s most vulnerable.
“The Commission intends to examine this issue in detail and will return to it in its report to the Human Rights Council next March,” said investigators Erik Møse of Norway (Chair), Jasminka DÅ¾umhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Pablo de Greiff of Colombia.
Help for war victims
Turning to the issue of reparations, Mr. de Greiff said that “some immediate steps” could be taken by the Ukrainian government to help victims of the war “without exempting the Russian Federation from its responsibility”.
All those affected by the conflict “have needs that require immediate attention”, the Commissioner said.
Measures that Kyiv could take included establishing a “victims’ registry”, to make it simpler to access support services, including mental health and psychosocial support to those exposed to violence, including displaced persons.
“Consistent with our mandate, we will continue to investigate violations of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and related crimes, and, where possible, seek to identify those responsible”
Latest UN data on confirmed civilian casualties since Russia’s invasion on 24 February indicates more than 16,630 in total: 6,557 killed and 10,074 injured, but the real figures are likely to be significantly higher, due to restrictions on access to war zones.
Zaporizhzhia towns bombarded
While the humanitarian situation in Kherson has been receiving extensive coverage, dozens of towns on both sides of the frontline in Zaporizhzhia have been shelled daily during the past weeks, according to NGOs on the ground, said the UN Spokesperson on Friday briefing journalists in New York.
“People in these towns face tremendous challenges accessing gas, water and electricity in their homes”, said Stéphane Dujarric.
Most living in the Donetsk region also face extremely limited access to heating, water, health and education services, he added.
“Over the past couple of days, our humanitarian colleagues have received reports from local authorities of civilians killed and injured on both sides of the front line. Yesterday, several schools in both Ukrainian and Russian-controlled parts of the region were reportedly hit.”
He said with temperatures plummeting, heating is a life-threatening issue, and on the Russian-controlled side, including the city of Donetsk, families cannot heat their homes as the centralized heating system has been knocked out. Water is also limited to a few days per week for a few hours.
The UN has distributed hundreds of generators to hospitals, schools and heating points across Ukraine for people cut off from utilities, said Mr. Dujarric.
“The UN has also provided winter supplies and services, heating appliances and house repairs to over 630,000 people. Most of this work can only take place in areas under Government control and humanitarian access to the other parts of the country remains a huge challenge.”
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