Ukrainian Civilian Casualties Rise, but Number Is Uncertain

Ukrainian Civilian Casualties Rise, but Number Is Uncertain

As the bombing of civilian targets in Ukraine intensified on Wednesday, reports of civilian casualties escalated. It was not immediately possible for The New York Times to provide an independent estimate, and as it is often the case in war zones, reports diverged.

The United Nations said that 227 civilians had been killed, but noted that number was likely an undercount. The Ukrainian government initially put the number of civilian deaths at more than 2,000, but Ukraine’s emergency services agency later called that figure “approximate,” and said: “It is unknown how many people are actually still under fire and debris. There is no exact figure.”

Casualty counts in times of war can be skewed by many factors, including partisan propaganda, the fluidity and unpredictability of attacks and security threats to the those officially tasked with assessing tolls.

“It is particularly difficult in the context of Ukraine, with misinformation circulating,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office, said in an email. The Human Rights office is leading the United Nations’ count.

“Over the past week, they have definitely been underestimates,” she added.

Ms. Shamdasani said that the only reason her agency was able to provide a figure at all was that it had been documenting civilian casualties since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The U.N. Human Rights Office’s tally represents the casualties it has been able to independently verify, assess as credible and crosscheck with multiple sources, by such means as interviewing witnesses, the injured and relatives of the dead, and consulting local authorities, law enforcement officials and the military. The agency also uses court records; data from hospitals, photos and videos; and information from international and local nongovernmental organizations to corroborate its tally.

“Corroboration takes time,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “Numbers of casualties are often underestimates.”

She also noted that it could be difficult to distinguish military from civilian casualties. “Where we are unsure, we don’t count them as civilians,” she said. “That’s another reason for our lower civilian casualty numbers.”

A United Nations official who was not authorized to speak on the record said that the figures provided by the Ukrainian government were in line with what would be expected, given the intensity and duration of the flighting.

On Wednesday, Liudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, said in a Facebook post that 21 children had been killed and 55 injured since the invasion. She said that figure had been calculated through “the analysis of information from various sources,” but it was not immediately possible to reach her for further information on her sources.

On Tuesday, the United Nations said that between the start of the invasion last Thursday and midnight on Monday, at least 13 children had been killed.

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