How many civilian deaths is the Russian invasion of Ukraine causing? The ‘fog of war’, as the confusion typical of armed conflicts is called, prevents giving a figure with certainty at the moment. Cities on the battlefront, such as Mariúpol, are practically cut off. The Ukrainian government says that 2,500 civilians have died in that coastal town alone. There are so many deaths and so fast that the bodies are being buried in mass graves; also in the city of Bucha or in Chernigov, near kyiv.
Although the total number of non-military deaths in these 18 days of invasion is unknown, it is known that the number is growing very fast. “The rate at which the intensity of the conflict is increasing is incredible; I am surprised even though I have been in this sector for 20 years and have been in many crisis zones”, says Beatrice Godefroy, director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) in Europe. “I have spoken with organizations that are dedicated to counting victims and they tell me that they are having to adapt your verification methodology because everything goes very fast. They say that the numbers are probably double those of the deadliest days of the war in Iraq or Syria, due to the intensity of the battles and the multiplicity of locations attacked, ”he says.
In Syria it is estimated that they have died over 350,000 civilians, according to the United Nations, in a decade of war. In the worst year, 2013, about 22,000. In other words, in three weeks of the war in Syria, an average of 1,200 civilians died. It is half of the deceased only in the town of Mariúpol, if the figures of the Ukrainian Government are correct.
“In Ukraine a photo is beginning to emerge showing a extreme damage to the populationeven taking into account the fragmented information available, ”Emily Tripp, head of research at the organization for counting civilian casualties in conflicts, Airwars, from the University of London, stresses to this newspaper.
Military escalation, civilian targets
In the early days of the war, most non-military deaths were “collateral damage, mostly from missiles falling where they shouldn’t have,” Godefroy says. After a couple of days, when Vladimir Putin realized that the military “quick hit” was not going to work, he began to harden the strategy. The deaths began for what is known in jargon as “indiscriminate attacks” in densely populated areas: It does not charge against civilians, but the attacks are so uncontrolled and with such lethal weapons that they die anyway.
In the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance, Moscow has climbed to the third rung of the climb: civilian infrastructure has become “primary goal”. The Mariúpol maternity hospital, the Kharkov psychiatric hospital or another 22 health centers attacked, or the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, are some examples [ver tabla de algunos ataques mortíferos al final de este artículo].
CIVIC has been monitoring incidents involving civilians since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24: Mariupol, kyiv, Uman, Vuhledar and Kharkov… in a report concludes that “civilians have become a priority target of the Russian Armed Forces after the invasion of Ukraine.”
“Russia is using high-impact weapons over densely populated areas where it is impossible to distinguish between civilian and military targets, for example multi-missile launchers (MLRS) and cluster bombs”, explains Godefroy.
The number of civilian casualties is also increasing because the country is receiving attacks from many points at the same time, because the pace of military operations is very fast and because strategy is turning towards deadlier modes. “We fear that, as time goes on, more and more harmful weapons and tactics will be used.”
CIVIC [financiado por la UE, Alemania y Canadá y presente en Ucrania desde 2017] points out that the increase in fighting and the bombings over populated and urban areas it shows a change in the Russian war strategy, “aimed at causing a high number of civilian casualties in order to break the Ukrainian Armed Forces”. The organization accuses Moscow of ignoring “the obligations under international humanitarian law.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.