Explosive Violence in Ukraine in 2023

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine persisting into its third year, civilians are continuing to suffer the consequences of explosive violence: despite a 19% decrease in civilian casualties compared to 10,351 recorded in 2022, Ukraine accounts for 24% (8,352) of global civilian harm from explosive weapons, remaining the second worst impacted country in the world last year. 

In 2023, AOAV recorded 1,778 civilians killed and 6,574 injured in Ukraine across 2,754 incidents of explosive weapons use – a 49% increase compared to 1,854 incidents recorded in 2022, representing 37% of global recorded incidents of explosive violence last year. At least 349 children, 956 women, and 1,261 men are reported among the civilian casualties. 

92% (2,541) of incidents of explosive weapons use in Ukraine were reported in populated areas last year, resulting in 96% (7,978) of civilian casualties. The worst affected locations were urban residential locations, which account for 40% (3,377) of civilian casualties, and multiple urban locations, where 24% (2,040) of civilian casualties occurred. 14% (1,184) of civilian casualties were reported in villages. 

State actors continue to perpetrate the majority of civilian harm in Ukraine, with 99% (8,264) of civilian casualties attributed to two states (1,752 killed). The Russian armed forces were the reported perpetrators of 91% (7,618) of civilian casualties, and the Ukrainian armed forces of 7% (544). 

Incidents of explosive weapons use by both actors increased significantly compared to 2022: attacks attributed to Russia rose by 53%, from 1,668 to 2,544, and those attributed to Ukraine increased by 54%, from 67 to 103. While civilian casualties attributed to Ukraine remained consistent (531 recorded in 2022), civilian casualties of Russian explosive weapons use fell by 18% last year, down from 9,290. Overall, Russia was the reported perpetrator of 92% of incidents recorded in the country last year, and Ukraine of 4%.

In a reflection of patterns identified in 2022, ground-launched weapons continue to account for the majority of civilian harm in the country, killing and injuring 66% (5,518) of civilian casualties (1,245 fatalities) across 2,034 incidents. Aerial attacks accounted for 14% (1,183) of civilian casualties (286 killed) across 255 incidents. 

Air strikes were consequently more injurious and deadly than ground attacks in Ukraine last year, with, on average, 4.6 civilians harmed per air strike, and 1.1 killed, compared to 2.7 harmed per ground attack, and 0.6 killed. The use of air strikes in Ukraine increased by 143% last year, up from 105, while ground attacks rose by 36%, up from 1,497.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have played a role across both years of the conflict, predominantly used by resistance movements to target military and administrative figures in the occupied parts of the country. Last year, three civilians were reported killed and 17 injured across 28 IED attacks, while in 2022, two civilians were killed and 25 injured across three attacks.

Incidents of explosive weapons use were recorded across 23 oblasts in Ukraine, with further incidents recorded in Crimea and the Black Sea. Donetsk remains the worst impacted: 30% (2,481) of civilian casualties were reported there, as were 33% (921) of incidents, followed by 2,122 civilians killed and injured in Kherson, 787 in Kharkiv, 773 in Dnipropetrovsk, 637 in Zaporizhzhya, and 267 in Chernihiv.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to be characterised by devastating attacks targeting civilian infrastructure, as war fatigue, donor fatigue, and reporting fatigue creep into the picture. Ukraine and allies are hard-pressed to produce and provide enough munitions to bolster the country’s defences, and avenues for a diplomatic solution seem increasingly remote. With the reported use of explosive weapons by both states party to the conflict increasing significantly, the mutual unwillingness to engage in negotiations reflects the likelihood of ongoing hostilities.

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