A team of eight human rights monitors, including the head of the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, has left for the small village of Hroza in northeastern Ukraine, the site of an apparent Russian missile attack Thursday that killed at least 52 people and injured several others.
The team will arrive Saturday to gather information and collect possible evidence of gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law that might amount to war crimes.
“According to local authorities, 52 people were killed when what appeared to be a Russian missile struck a cafe in the village, where people had gathered for a wake,” said Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“The appalling scenes from the village of Hroza in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine underscore once again the terrible price civilians are paying 20 months after Russia’s invasion,” she said.
Throssell noted that so far colleagues in the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine have established the names of 35 people who were killed.
They include 19 women, 15 men, an eight-year-old boy and the names of five women and one man who were injured. According to authorities, Throssell said, “One Ukrainian soldier who was attending his father’s funeral was among those killed.”
“What is clear is that the strike is one of the deadliest since 24 February 2022, but of course it is far from being the only one,” she said. “The appalling scenes from the village of Hroza in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine underscore once again the terrible price civilians are paying 20 months after Russia’s invasion.”
This is borne out in a U.N. report published Wednesday on the human rights situation in Ukraine.
The U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in the country observed that “civilians continue to pay a horrendous price in the war in Ukraine, with nearly 10,000 dead and tens of thousands injured since conflict began in February 2022.”
Danielle Bell, the mission’s head, noted that “in just six months covered by this report, more than 1,000 civilians died and nearly four thousand were injured.”
Spokesperson Throssell said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk is profoundly shocked by the horrific impact of such strikes and condemns the killings.
“He has deployed a field team to the site to speak to survivors and gather more information,” she said, noting the importance of having people on the ground “piecing together information that will allow them to establish more about what actually occurred in this village.”
She said she did not know whether there were any military targets in the area.
“That is something that we cannot really establish right now. But I think what is clear is that this was a village, with a small community,” said Throssell.
“Before the Russian invasion, the village’s population was about 300. It is not clear how many residents were still living there, but with the high number of people killed, everybody in this small community has been affected,” she said.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or OCHA said Denise Brown, the humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine, was also traveling to Hroza.
“She also condemned this horrific attack that caused significant death and damage to the village of Hroza,” said Jens Laerke, OCHA deputy spokesperson. “She is on her way to the location…to see for herself what has happened and what kind of support the U.N. humanitarian system and our partners can provide.
“We know already that yesterday; some NGOs were able to get there. Other agencies, NGOs, and U.N. agencies are mobilizing relief to get it there. I am told that that includes things such as non-food items, shelter maintenance kits, cash, hygiene materials as well as mental health and psycho-social support,” said Laerke.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres strongly condemned the attack on the village of Hroza in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine.
“Attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure are prohibited under international humanitarian law and they must stop immediately,” he said in a statement Thursday.