How many civilians have died in the Ukraine war? – Grid News

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How many civilians have died in the Ukraine war?

In a new section in our daily newsletter, called Out of the Inbox, we’ll answer questions from readers about Grid stories.

This question about the civilian toll of the war in Ukraine originally appeared in Tuesday’s newsletter. Grid’s Global Editor Tom Nagorski answers below.

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What is the number of civilian deaths in the war in Ukraine to date?

Tom Nagorski: Thanks for the question. In one way, we can say, you’ve come to the right place — here at Grid, we track this and other data from the war in Ukraine on a weekly basis. On the other hand, an accurate accounting of civilian deaths is made difficult in part because of the war itself and in part because of the U.N.’s methodology of reporting the toll.

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Here’s what we mean: Death tolls are always difficult in wartime, for obvious reasons. In Ukraine, the numbers have come largely from mayors and other local officials; national leaders have generally steered clear of giving a countrywide figure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who gives daily addresses and makes a point of regularly highlighting Russian attacks on civilian targets, has refrained from providing an overall toll. It may be a calculated omission, done to avoid damaging Ukrainian morale.

The widely accepted independent tracker of civilian casualties is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The OHCHR accounting is very thorough — in some ways, too thorough. Basically, the OHCHR insists — understandably — on fully documenting each fatality among the civilian population before adding to its official figures. In last week’s most recent example, the U.N. verified a total of 5,024 civilian deaths to date; 343 of these were children. But the organization added, as it does each week, that “OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher.”

Why? Because it often cannot obtain confirmations and details from the front lines. Last week, the OHCHR cited an absence of detailed reporting from Mariupol, Izyum, Lysychansk, Popasna and Severodonetsk — all cities that have seen deadly Russian attacks or clashes between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

From the story of Mariupol alone, we know that the 5,024 number is a considerable undercount. There, the city’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko, said in late April that the death toll among his city’s civilians may have been as high as 20,000. Even allowing for exaggeration or inaccuracy, it was clear that several thousand Mariupol residents had perished. Boychenko called it “one of the worst genocides of civilians in modern history.”

For all these reasons, our weekly War in Data segment typically uses the U.N. figures, together with the caveats and available accounts from local officials. We have referenced both the Mariupol mayor and a Ukrainian official who said at least 40,000 Ukrainian civilians had been killed or wounded since the war began — though the official offered no breakdown of dead versus wounded.

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The “fog of war” is an old cliché, but in this case it rings true. It may only be after the guns go silent in Ukraine that a full answer to your question will be possible.

Have a question? Email us — and we may answer it in a future newsletter issue.

  • Tom Nagorski
    Tom Nagorski

    Global Editor

    Tom Nagorski is the global editor at Grid, where he oversees our coverage of global security, U.S.-China relations, migration trends, global economics and U.S. foreign policy.

  • Cameron Hood
    Cameron Hood

    Newsletter Editor

    Cameron Hood is the newsletter editor at Grid.