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Six months into the Russia-Ukraine war, how can we measure the loss of life?


How can we know the true human cost of the war? It's now six months old, about. Matilda Bogner heads the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. She joins us from Kyiv. Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: I should note that United Nations figures show 5,000 civilian deaths in the war, about 7,000 wounded. That's a terrible toll, and yet I'm surprised the numbers would be that low. How accurate are they, do you think?

BOGNER: Well, yeah, we have recorded more than 5,500 killed and, as you said, over - it's 7,800 injured. These are the figures that we have individually documented. So we look into each case. We verify it. And clearly, there are more people who are injured and who are killed than the cases that we can verify. So the total is higher than that. But it has been an extreme escalation since February this year, with thousands killed. And so the numbers are lower than the actual figures, but they show a huge level of suffering in the country.

INSKEEP: I'm also recalling that in the early phase of the war, something like 10 million Ukrainians were on the move out of their homes. Now, many of them have returned, of course. But is it your understanding there are still millions of refugees, both internal and external?

BOGNER: Yes. The latest figures that we're aware of - it's around 6 million have left the country as refugees, and more than 6 million within the country who are IDPs, who have had to leave their homes and find other places to live. Unfortunately, more people are still leaving. There are still new refugee and IDP flows as the hostilities in the east continue to affect civilians' lives.

INSKEEP: So we're well over a quarter of a large nation on the move out of their homes, and those numbers continue to go up, even if some people have been able to return to places like Kyiv. Now, the numbers tell us one thing, but stories tell us another. What is the daily cost that you see in people's lives, people that you've met or that you see on the street in Kyiv?

BOGNER: You know, we meet people every day, and we meet people who are in fairly vulnerable situations, who would have been even before this escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. We meet elderly people who've been forced to leave their houses and then try to seek accommodation elsewhere. Then they can't afford to pay for that. They have to return to their houses, which are still in dangerous areas. We meet people with disabilities, people who can't afford the medicines that they need in order to live a dignified life. We also meet families who've had family members killed and who have witnessed really horrific violence. Imagine being an older woman and having to see your son shot in front of you. We meet with people like this on a daily basis. That really describes the type of horrors that people are having to live through.

INSKEEP: How much access, if any, are the Russians giving your monitoring mission in the areas that they control?

BOGNER: We didn't - we have not had access to areas that are under - newly under Russian occupation. We have some access in the east of the country, in Donetsk and Luhansk, which are controlled by Russian-affiliated armed groups. But we have had no access - no confidential access to detainees in areas that are controlled by the Russian Federation. We've also not had access to displaced persons who have moved into the Russian Federation or who are in areas that are occupied by the Russian Federation.

INSKEEP: In a sentence or two, are you having anything that could be described as good faith negotiations leading to your access to those people?

BOGNER: We have an ongoing dialogue, and we are in discussions regarding access. But so far, that's not been successful. But we will continue to try.

INSKEEP: Matilda Bogner heads the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. Thanks so much.

BOGNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.