UN officials on Tuesday warned of a worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine, with access to food and health facilities among the top concerns in a country listed among the world's leading grain producers.
At a UN press conference in Geneva, UN Information Services head Alessandra Vellucci noted the concern expressed overnight by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the continuing attacks on Ukrainian cities across the country.
She said the attacks have resulted in numerous civilian casualties and destruction in residential areas and civilian infrastructure.
The UN Human Rights office said it has recorded 4,966 civilian casualties in the country – 2,104 killed and 2,862 injured.
However, the rights office said it "believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed."
Vellucci said: "The Secretary-General is greatly concerned by the continuing appalling humanitarian situation in the besieged city of Mariupol, which has been largely destroyed by weeks of unrelenting Russian attacks."
Attacks on cities
She said Guterres "is deeply concerned by the continuing attacks on Ukrainian cities," including most recently Lviv, Dnipro, Kharkiv, and Mykolaiv, "which result in numerous civilian casualties and destruction in residential areas, as well as civilian infrastructure."
The UN head strongly urged all parties to enact an urgent and immediate humanitarian cease-fire to enable the safe functioning of humanitarian corridors, help evacuate civilian residents, and deliver life-saving humanitarian and medical assistance.
Bhanu Bhatnagar, WHO Europe spokesperson, said that patient care is heavily dependent on access to a reliable power supply.
Bhatnagar noted that there are only 10 medical oxygen plants across the country.
He said that as of Tuesday, WHO has verified 147 attacks on health care in Ukraine since Russia began its war on Ukraine on Feb. 24. At least 73 people have died and 52 wounded in such attacks.
"One of our biggest concerns right now is maintaining access to people who need help," said Bhatnagar.
‘Humanitarian situation continues to worsen’
Jakob Kern, the World Food Program's Emergency Ukraine coordinator, said that seven weeks into the conflict, WFP estimates almost half of the people in the country are worried about finding enough to eat.
After visiting Kyiv and Bucha last week, he told journalists from Lviv: "The humanitarian situation inside Ukraine continues to worsen.
"The problem is not the availability of food, but rather access to food, be it physically or economically," Kern said.
"Food is one of the top three concerns for people besides safety and fuel for transportation. WFP is working with partners, local authorities, and NGOs to respond to the dire needs of families in need," he added.
Kern noted that Ukraine is the world's fifth-largest exporter of wheat and in the top three for maize, barley, and sunflower seeds.
"Before the conflict, Ukraine used to feed the world; now they need help to feed themselves," said Kern.
UN's FAO estimates that 20% of planted areas will not be harvested in July, while grain market analysts estimate that the spring planting area will be about one-third smaller than usual.
"But even with this reduced harvest forecast, the main challenge to the agricultural economy in Ukraine is related to exporting existing stocks of grains to provide storage capacity for the 2022 harvest and generate much-needed cash to buy seeds and fertilizers for the next planting season," Kern said.