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Ukraine – A year of civilian suffering from bombing and shelling in towns and cities

24 February 2023 – When the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the International Network on explosive Weapons (INEW), warned that the use of explosive weapons in and near major towns and cities posed “a grave and foreseeable risk of death and injury to civilians” in Ukraine, including harm from damage and destruction to civilian infrastructure and essential services. This warning came after more than a decade of documentation by civil society of the pattern of harm from the use of explosive weapons, in which civilians overwhelmingly bear the brunt of their use in populated areas.

One year on, the Ukraine conflict is yet another example of this pattern of harm and an illustration of explosive weapon use – particularly those with ‘wide area effects’ – as one of the main causes of civilian harm in armed conflict today.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and injured this past year in Ukraine by airstrikes, missile strikes, and artillery shelling, though the impacts of explosive weapon use extended beyond death and injury of civilians to other indirect and reverberating effects with far-reaching humanitarian consequences. These included the damage and destruction of residential buildings, energy infrastructure, and other vital civilian infrastructure, depriving civilians of access to essential services and resulting in a pattern of wider, long-term harm and suffering.

Civilian casualties

At least 8,000 civilians have been reported as killed and another 13,300 injured since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February last year, according to the most recent figures released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Of these casualties, and at least 1,440 children were among those killed or injured.

More than 9 in 10 civilian casualties of the conflict were caused by explosive weapons with ‘wide area effects’, including airstrikes, cruise and ballistic missiles, and artillery shells.

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), which monitors civilians killed or injured by explosive weapon use using incident-specific English language media reporting, reported that 94 percent of civilian casualties in Ukraine since the start of the conflict occurred in populated areas – a figure consistent with the pattern of harm to civilians recorded over the last decade.

Damage and destruction of civilian infrastructure and disruption of essential services

The true extent of civilian harm in Ukraine is more severe, as the impacts of conflict and the use of explosive weapons extended beyond death and injury of civilians. A significant proportion of civilian harm was caused by damage to civilian infrastructure and the disruption of essential services.

As of December 2022, the Kyiv School of Economics reported that civilian infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the conflict included, approximately:

  • 149,300 residential buildings
  • 150 bridges or overpasses
  • 900 cultural facilities
  • 95 religious facilities
  • 3,000 commercial shops
  • 14,400 publication transportation units

Energy infrastructure was often targeted by Russian forces’ use of explosive weapons throughout the conflict. Between the beginning of the conflict and November 2022, PAX identified 213 reported incidents of military actions on energy infrastructure (and verified 63 of those incidents), the largest of which occurred in October 2022, which damaged 40 percent of Ukraine’s electricity generation and transmission facilities. According to Human Rights Watch, these missile and drone attacks in October killed at least 72 civilians and injured 272, and left millions of Ukrainian civilians temporarily without access to electricity, water, heat, and other essential services.

Impeded Access to Healthcare

The impacts of armed conflict and explosive weapon use have deprived civilians of access to healthcare in Ukraine. Between the beginning of the conflict through the end of 2022, Insecurity Insight and its research partners documented more than 700 attacks on Ukraine’s health care system. These included:

  • 292 attacks that damaged or destroyed 218 hospitals and clinics (many health of which were attacked more than once)
  • 65 attacks on ambulances
  • 181 attacks on other health infrastructure (for example, pharmacies, blood centers, dental clinics, and research centers)
  • 86 attacks on health care workers (at least 62 health workers were killed and 52 injured)

One in 10 of Ukraine’s hospitals have been directly damaged from attacks, with the heaviest destruction in eastern Ukraine, Insecurity Insight found. There was an average of more than two attacks on health care each day from the beginning of the conflict to the end of 2022.

Impeded Access to Education

Ukrainian civilians’ access to education was also impacted by armed conflict and explosive weapon use. More than 3,500 educational institutions were reportedly damaged or destroyed since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict as a result of bombing and shelling, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science.

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) determined that explosive weapons were used in the majority of all attacks on education it recorded in Ukraine between 24 February and 31 December 2022.

Education has been disrupted for about 5.7 million children, according to UNICEF, and 1.5 million children have faced psychosocial impacts of the conflict.

Displacement and humanitarian need

As a result of this extensive damage and destruction and impeded access to essential services, the OHCHR estimates that nearly 18 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance across Ukraine, accounting for almost 40 percent of the country’s population.

Upwards of 14 million people in total are currently displaced from their homes. There are approximately 5.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Ukraine, 58 percent of whom have been displaced for six months or more, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  Approximately eight million more people have fled to neighboring countries.


INEW calls on all parties to stop the use of heavy explosive weapons in towns, cities and other populated areas due to the high risk of harm to civilians.

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