The United Nations will significantly increase its estimate of civilian deaths during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to the head of its service monitoring civilian casualties in the country.
This is currently estimated by the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR). at least 1,563 civilians were killed since Russia began its invasion on February 24th to April 5th.
However, estimates from individual Ukrainian regions already dwarf this number – only with officials in the besieged Mariupol treasure that at least 5,000 civilians have died in the city.
While the UN is careful to point out that its own estimates are likely well below the actual figure, critics have said the low number likely underestimates the extent of the suffering.
Uladzimir Shcherbau, head of civilian damage monitoring at the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, said air wars and The Independent that they plan to issue a comprehensive update on the casualty figures shortly.
“We have a large body of information that allows us to triangulate, or somehow approximate, the true death toll. I wouldn’t give you specific numbers right now because it’s extremely sensitive,” he said.
“Patterns, correlations and available information per region and per type of victim will be examined to arrive at this realistic estimate fairly soon.
“We think it will be pretty close to the actual death toll.”
Shcherbau said the UN’s current methodology – which documents every single death – has produced incredibly detailed and reliable estimates of the civilian damage resulting from the lower-intensity Ukraine conflict between 2014 and early 2022 in the east of the country.
However, he acknowledged that the UN has come under fire from Ukrainian officials and others given the very significant human suffering resulting from the Russian invasion.
“We’re under a lot of pressure because we’re getting a lot of criticism – they say ‘your numbers are irrelevant,'” he said.
In the future, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission will also gather estimates from a wider range of sources, including regional authorities and official bodies, he said. The new figures are expected to be published shortly.
Shcherbau said his team worked day and night to document every civilian death during the six weeks of the war.
According to the UN, the majority of recorded civilian casualties were caused by the use of long-range explosive weapons, including heavy artillery fire and multiple-missile systems, as well as missile and airstrikes.
Shcherbau said the city of Mariupol, which remains under siege by Russian forces, has the most reported civilian deaths. The city has been effectively cut off for weeks, making gathering reliable data from there very difficult.
“We have credible reports that many bodies are still in the rubble, some bodies are lying unattended in the apartments – nobody was (able) to take care of the bodies,” Shcherbau said.
“Many bodies have been buried in improvised graves – they also need to be exhumed and reburied individually and with reasonable decency. This will also be an enormous challenge for the city. We’ve seen a lot of footage of graves in people’s yards, which is frightening.”
The top UN casualty monitor for Ukraine also said that indirect deaths in Mariupol are likely to have increased sharply, for example due to people not having access to vital medical care. And he noted a grisly spike in reported suicides in the city during the brutal Russian siege.
“When will the world know for sure when hostilities are over, the exact number of civilians killed in Mariupol from the first to the last day of hostilities? It’s definitely going to take time — it’s going to take time to recover all the bodies to identify them,” he said. “So the ultimate accurate number won’t arrive quickly.”
“It’s going to be a terrifying and heartbreaking task,” he added. “Not just to count people, but also to ensure that those who died are treated fairly and then get back to work for redress and bring the perpetrators to justice. The preservation of evidence – and that is corpses – will be extremely important.”
The full interview with UN Victim Monitor Uladzimir Shcherbau is available on the Airwars website.
Chris Woods is the Director of Airwars.organ independent monitoring group that tracks and investigates civilian damage caused by military action in various conflicts.