'People who did nothing wrong': The toll of Russian strikes on civilian targets in Ukraine

user avatar Author: Editors Desk Source: CBC News:
September 6, 2023 at 20:41
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says more than 26,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in war
A resident cries as she is encouraged to evacuate her home, near the frontline in Donetsk, on April 2. Civilian casualties have surpassed 26,000 in Ukraine, including more than 9,500 who were killed. (Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters )
A resident cries as she is encouraged to evacuate her home, near the frontline in Donetsk, on April 2. Civilian casualties have surpassed 26,000 in Ukraine, including more than 9,500 who were killed. (Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters )

Wednesday's attack by Russia on a market in eastern Ukraine is the latest example of the toll the war is taking on civilians. The Ukrainian Defence Ministry said the market was hit by a ballistic missile. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it "a deliberate attack" and said a child was among the dead.

As of the end of August, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded 26,717 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 9,511 people who were killed and 17,206 who were injured.

There have been more attacks on civilians since then, including the market attack, in which at least 17 people were killed. 

Russia denies it targets civilians. But international monitors say tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the past 18 months.

In March, a UN-backed inquiry concluded that "Russian authorities have committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law and violations of international human rights law, in addition to a wide range of war crimes, including the war crime of excessive incidental death, injury, or damage, wilful killings, torture, inhuman treatment, unlawful confinement, rape, as well as unlawful transfers and deportations."

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has already opened investigations into some of the attacks and in March issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in connection to the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.

Siege of Mariupol

In March 2022, Russia attacked Mariupol, a city of nearly 450,000 people on the Sea of Azov in the Donetsk region. A theatre where about 600 people were sheltering and a maternity and children's hospital were both hit by missile strikes. 

The mayor said more than 10,000 people in his city were killed over the next six weeks. The United Nations said it confirmed 1,348 civilian deaths but that the actual number was likely much higher.

Other estimates have put the number of civilian deaths as high as 25,000. 

Bread line

In March 2022, at least 17 people were killed while waiting in a line for bread in Cherniv, according to Human Rights Watch

Hospitals and schools

Both hospitals and schools have come under fire in the past 18 months, the latter often when people have been using them as shelters. 

In May 2022, a school in the village of Bilohorivka in the Donbas region was bombed. Nearly 100 people were sheltering in it at the time. 

Flames and smoke rise from a destroyed building, with just one wall still standing
A partially collapsed school building in the village of Bilohorivka, Luhansk, Ukraine, following Russian shelling on May 8, 2022.  (State Emergency Services/Handout/Reuters)

Ukraine has accused Russia of targeting both a general hospital and a psychiatric hospital in Izyum.  

A man in a white coat stands with his head bowed in a destroyed building
Ukrainian doctor Yurii Kuznetsov pauses in the destroyed surgery section of the hospital in Izyum, Ukraine, on Feb. 19. (Vadim Ghirda/The Associated Press )

A man on crutches walks by the remnants of a destroyed building
A patient walks past the surgery department of the same hospital after it was hit a few months earlier, in September 2022.  (Evgeniy Maloletka/The Associated Press )

Train stations 

Train stations and trains carrying people trying to flee certain areas have been hit on multiple occasions. 

In April 2022, a missile hit a train station in Kramatorsk, killing at least 50 people.

"It is generally known that these stations are filled with innocent people — with women, children, grandparents that are trying to leave," said Nate Mook, CEO of the humanitarian organization World Central Kitchen, which was distributing food in Kramatorsk and other affected areas in eastern Europe at the time.

Man speaking on a phone with his arm around a person wearing a blue hoodie, sitting on a railing
A man hugs a woman after Russian shelling at the railway station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on April 8, 2022.  (Andriy Andriyenko/The Associated Press))


In August 2022, a missile strike hit a train station and passenger train in Chaplyne. 

"Chaplyne is our pain today. As of this moment there are 22 dead," Zelenskyy said in a video address that evening.  

"Russia's missile strike on a train station full of civilians in Ukraine fits a pattern of atrocities. We will continue, together with partners from around the world, to stand with Ukraine and seek accountability for Russian officials," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the time on Twitter.

Apartment blocks

There have been several attacks on residential buildings across Ukraine since the beginning of the war, with buildings in some cities coming under fire multiple times. That's been the case in Dnipro, including when an apartment block housing some 1,700 people was hit by a Russian missile strike in January.

At least 45 people were confirmed killed before the search for survivors was ended. The dead included six children, and another 79 people were injured, according to Zelenskyy.

He called for the ICC to investigate

Overnight missile attacks in the city of Uman in April killed dozens of people as they slept. Officials said two cruise missiles hit a nine-storey building. Emergency personnel said the dead included children and a 75-year-old woman. 

The insides of an apartment are exposed after being hit with a missile
An exposed kitchen is seen after an apartment block was heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike on Jan. 18.  (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

Shopping malls/markets 

Shopping areas have also been the scene of civilian casualties in Ukraine. 

Officials said more than 1,000 people were inside a shopping mall in Kremenchuk when it was hit by a Russian missile strike in June 2022. At least 13 people were killed and dozens wounded. At the time, Zelenskyy said, "This is not an accidental hit; this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre." 

In May, people doing their groceries came under attack as Russian shells hit a hypermarket in Kherson, along with another railway station and more residential buildings. 

Zelenskyy described the targets as "the bloody trail that Russia leaves behind with its shells."

Four months later, his observation following Wednesday's attack on the open market in Kostiantynivka echoed that sentiment: "A regular market. Shops. A pharmacy. People who did nothing wrong."

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters


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