At least 37 children have been killed and 50 injured in Ukraine since Russia launched an all-out offensive against the nation on 24 February, according to a UNICEF count of the 7.5 million children in the country.
As of Tuesday, more than two million people have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries, of whom at least one million are said to be children. Those who are still in the country are facing growing threats, most recently during an attack on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, involving the youngest and most fragile minors.
“I am horrified by the reported attack today on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine – an attack which reportedly left young children and women in labour buried beneath the rubble of destroyed buildings. We do not yet know the number of casualties but fear the worst," UNICEF's director Catherine Russell said.
She added that such acts against civilians and civilian infrastructure are "unconscionable and must stop immediately."
Attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure – including hospitals, water and sanitation systems and schools – are unconscionable and must stop immediately. The children of Ukraine desperately need peace.Read my full statement: https://t.co/y913OQWs8e — Catherine Russell (@unicefchief) March 9, 2022
“This attack underscores the horrific toll this war is exacting on Ukraine’s children and families. In less than two weeks, at least 37 children have been killed and more than 50 have been injured," she said. “The children of Ukraine desperately need peace.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a post on Twitter that there were children beneath the wreckage in the maternity hospital, and Ukrainian officials called the attack a "war crime."
Mariupol. Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity. pic.twitter.com/FoaNdbKH5k— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 9, 2022
Various conventions adopted in the last two centuries have set out means of warfare to ensure a "certain humanity can be maintained in armed conflict."
The principles in conventions mainly aim to guide the work of healthcare workers and hospitals, and state that in times of war, targeting civilians and civilian buildings — including healthcare facilities, such as was done by Russia on Wednesday — constitute a war crime.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) launched an investigation into actions in Ukraine at the request of 39 countries, while Germany and the United States are collecting their own data on possible war crimes. The United Kingdom's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already accused Putin of war crimes.
'Protect children from harm'
UNICEF renewed its call for an immediate cease-fire and urged all parties involved to "respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect children from harm," and to ensure that "humanitarian actors can safely and quickly reach children in need."
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The recent escalation of a conflict that has already inflicted lasting harm on children in Ukraine for eight years has further increased the risk posed to their lives as homes, schools, orphanages, and hospitals have all come under attack by Russian missiles and firing.
Russell said UNICEF would be increasing its staffing levels in the regions despite the deteriorating situation on the ground to help provide help to children and families.