UN reports civilian casualties surge across Ukraine amid renewed ground offensive

The civilian death toll in Ukraine last month rose sharply to 174, the highest in nearly a year amid a Russian ground offensive near the city of Kharkiv, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) said Friday. May’s civilian casualty numbers mark the highest monthly toll in the conflict since June 2023.

The HRMMU report highlights that the significant increase in casualties, a 31 percent rise compared to April 2024, is largely attributable to intensified attacks by Russian armed forces in the Kharkiv region. These assaults, beginning on May 10, have contributed to 53 percent of the overall civilian casualties recorded in May.

HRMMU details extensive damage to educational and health facilities, with 65 percent of the total destruction occurring in the Kharkiv region. The city of Vovchansk, close to the Ukraine-Russia border, experienced particularly severe devastation.

Kharkiv’s energy infrastructure has also been severely impacted, with 24 documented attacks on power generation plants and electricity substations. These attacks caused significant disruptions in electricity and water supplies, affecting both government-controlled and Russian-occupied territories. Additionally, six attacks on railway infrastructure in Government-controlled areas were recorded in May.

The report notes several notable incidents documented by the HRMMU including attacks on May 8, when a country-wide missile and loitering munition attack damaged or destroyed at least eight energy facilities across six regions ahead of Victory in Europe Day, as well as strikes on a lakeside recreation center in Cherkaska Lozova, Kharkiv, which resulted in six civilian deaths and 13 injuries on May 19th.

On May 23 a missile strike on a printing house in Kharkiv city killed seven employees and injured at least 21 civilians, and May 25th, an attack on a large construction hypermarket in Kharkiv city claimed 19 lives and injured 54 people, including many employees. Later, a missile strike in the city center injured 25 civilians. A further overnight missile assault on a residential area in Kharkiv on May 30 and 31 killed nine civilians and injured at least 15.

Testimonies from evacuees paint a harrowing picture of life in war-torn areas. One female evacuee from Vovchansk described the scene: “Streets are on fire. Street by street is being erased from the face of the earth. Everything is in ruins around you.”

As the conflict continues, HRMMU emphasizes that the true extent of civilian harm is likely underreported. Many incidents from the initial stages of the full-scale attack in 2022, particularly in cities like Mariupol, Lysychansk, Popasna, and Sievierodonetsk, remain unverified due to access constraints and the volume of reports.

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) was established in March 2014 upon the invitation of the Ukrainian Government to observe and report on the human rights situation in the country. The mission particularly focuses on conflict areas in eastern Ukraine and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, including the city of Sevastopol, which are under Russian occupation. Following the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the mission has concentrated on documenting violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties involved in the conflict.