Updated Mar 18, 2022 - World

Leaders call for probe into heavy civilian casualties in Ukraine

The aftermath of a Russian cruise missile hitting a high school in Merefa, Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 17.

The aftermath of a Russian missile attack on a high school in Merefa, in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, on Thursday. Photo: Andrea Carrubba/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The United Nations has recorded some 1,900 civilian casualties during Russia's invasion of Ukraine — with 52 children among 726 confirmed dead, a UN official told the Security Council on Thursday.

Driving the news: UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo said the actual number of civilians killed from Feb. 24 to March 15 was "likely much higher."

  • "This demands a thorough investigation and accountability," said DiCarlo, who did not apportion blame in the killings.
  • "Hundreds of residential buildings have been damaged or destroyed, as have hospitals and schools," DiCarlo said.
  • "The devastation and suffering in Mariupol and Kharkiv raise grave fears about the fate of millions of residents of Kyiv and other cities facing intensifying attacks," she added.

By the numbers: World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the Security Council the WHO had verified 43 attacks on Ukraine health care facilities, resulting in the deaths of at least 12 people.

The big picture: President Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken both said this week that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal and that the Russian military's targeting of civilians constitutes a war crime.

  • Blinken told a briefing Thursday that U.S. experts were "in the process of documenting and evaluating potential war crimes being committed" in Ukraine" and would "make sure that our findings help international efforts to investigate war crimes and hold those responsible accountable."
  • G7 foreign ministers issued a statement Thursday welcoming work being undertaken "to investigate and gather evidence, including by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court" and demanded the Kremlin comply with the International Court of Justice's order to withdraw Russian forces from Ukraine.

State of play: Russian airstrikes were targeting key cities across Ukraine as the invasion entered a 23rd day on Friday.

  • These included the capital, Kyiv; Ukraine's second city, Kharkiv; Lviv, near Poland's border; and Chernihiv — where an American citizen was among several people killed by Russian forces while waiting in line for bread, according to his family.

Meanwhile, DiCarlo described the situation in Mariupol as "particularly alarming," noting Wednesday's strike on a theater where civilians were sheltering in the southeastern port city.

  • "Many of the Mariupol residents who have not been able to safely evacuate lack food, water, electricity and medical care. Uncollected corpses lie on city streets," she said.
  • "While early reports indicate that the worst may have been avoided, ongoing fighting is hampering the rescue work and assessment of the situation."

By the numbers: More than 3.1 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian forces began their invasion on Feb. 24, according to the UN.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further comment from DiCarlo, Blinken and G7 ministers, and to include the number of Ukrainian refugees.

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