Amid reported deadly missile attacks from Russia’s so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine, including the capital Kiev and other cities, terrified families have been forced to seek shelter underground, the UN said on Friday, adding that at least 100,000 people have likely been displaced by the violence. 

“There have been major attacks in Kiev that have created greater fear and panic among the population, with families really scared, moving alongside their children into subways and shelters, and this is clearly a terrifying moment for children across the country,” said Afshan Khan, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director, Europe and Central Asia, speaking in Geneva. 

Wrong but ‘not irreversible’ 

The development follows renewed condemnation for the Russian move by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who on Thursday appealed for peace and allocated $20 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to meet urgent needs. 

The use of force by one country against another is “the repudiation of the principles that every country has committed to uphold,” which applied to the military offensive in Ukraine, Mr. Guterres insisted.  

“It is wrong. It is against the Charter. It is unacceptable. But it is not irreversible.” 

Civilian deaths confirmed 

Two days since Russia launched military operations inside Ukraine, the UN rights office, OHCHR, confirmed that confirmed that many civilians have already been killed and injured. 

We’ve received reports of at least 127 civilian casualties; this includes 25 killed and 102 injured in Ukraine, caused by shelling and airstrikes…this is very likely to be an underestimate,” said Ravina Shamdasani, OHCHR spokesperson. 

Communities are already in need of aid relief, too, UN humanitarians warned. 

Fuel, cash, medical supply shortages 

“When we look at shortages, we’re talking about fuel, which has been well reported in the media, we’re talking about cash, because often in humanitarian situations, cash assistance would be our first support to families, so obviously there’s been a drawdown on banks,” said UNICEF’s Ms. Khan. 

Echoing that message and in an appeal for guaranteed humanitarian access to the most vulnerable individuals, the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted concerns that medical teams face being overwhelmed

“We don’t have reports yet from the hospitals, when we look to particular injuries and the details of medical,” said Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine.

“Where our focus has been now, is that the prepositioned medical kits. We will run out of them soon, so what is important currently…is how to ensure new supplies to come and…[that] there are humanitarian corridors from the neighbouring countries available.”  

Priority needs 

UN agencies have been active in Ukraine for many years, particularly since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 – a move in large part rejected by the international community.  

Immediate priorities include assessing what already vulnerable communities need in eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and other oblasts. 

“We are still trying to monitor what the situation is vis-à-vis civilian infrastructure,” said UNICEF’s Ms. Khan.  

“As you know, there has been hits of critical infrastructure in the east, particularly in Donbass for some years and they have been cut off, hence the UNICEF water trucking [operations]. In the current scenario we are still trying to see which civilian infrastructure has been hit [and] where.” 

Announcing the $20 million emergency funding allocation for the Ukraine crisis, Mr. Guterres underscored that the UN and its humanitarian partners are “committed to staying and delivering, to support people in Ukraine in their time of need.” 

A man stands in a school that was damaged by constant shelling in Oleksandrivka, near Donetsk, Ukraine. (file)

© ICRC/C. Granier-Deferre

A man stands in a school that was damaged by constant shelling in Oleksandrivka, near Donetsk, Ukraine. (file)

Lives shattered 

Forced mass displacement has also begun, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) confirmed.  

“There are more than 100,000 who we estimate have lost their homes and are displaced inside [the] country and we are also aware of several thousand who have crossed international borders in the region, and we’ve seen those really just happening since the onset of the situation,” said UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo. 

“We’re seeing these reports and we’ve seen for instance yesterday that there were about 5,000 refugee arrivals in Moldova already, but the other movements are being reported in Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the Russian Federation.” 

Russian protesters warned off 

While the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) warned that Ukraine’s people were “terrified of further escalation,” agency spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani flagged concerns inside of Russia. 

“Reportedly more than 1,800 were arrested…it’s impossible at this point to know to know exactly how many people there were,” Ms. Shamdasani said referring to anti-war protesters. 

“It is unclear whether some of them have now been released. What we understand is that among those who were arrested were also some journalists, and they were arrested in over 50 cities across Russia.”