new york — A senior U.N. humanitarian official expressed concern Friday about rising casualties in Ukraine, saying the toll in May was the highest in nearly a year, and that more than half of the casualties could be attributed to Russia’s recent offensive in the Kharkiv region.

“Shopping centers, homes, educational establishments, shops, office buildings, parks and public transport have all been struck in recent weeks,” said Joyce Msuya, assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

The U.N. human rights office, which verifies casualties, said at least 174 civilians were killed and 690 injured in May, with more than half attributed to the fighting in Kharkiv.

“At least 18,100 people in the Kharkiv region have been newly displaced, according to estimates by the International Organization for Migration,” Msuya noted.

On May 10, Russia began an offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region, resulting in some of its largest territorial gains in the past 18 months.

Msuya said the United Nations and its humanitarian partners have provided assistance, including food, clothes and cash, to more than 12,000 people at a transit center in Kharkiv city. She said civilians who remain in the frontline areas face “dire conditions.”

“Many are cut off from access to food, medical care, electricity and gas,” Msuya said.

“In May, Russian forces carried out 76 airstrikes against Kharkiv, three times more than in April,” Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the Security Council. “The air raid alerts in the city in May lasted for 474 hours and 55 minutes. That is 15 hours per day. Just imagine — 15 hours out of 24. Every day and every night. That is what Russia is doing to Kharkiv.”

Peace conference

The Security Council discussed the situation one week before the start of a two-day peace conference hosted by Switzerland to address the war in Ukraine.

“This summit aims to increase the understanding for peace and to form a platform for high-level discussions to initiate a peace process,” Swiss Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl told the council.

Ukrainian envoy Kyslytsya said a successful summit would be a clear signal that the world does not support the war and wants peace.

“Ukraine needs a strong voice from all countries in favor of a just peace,” he said.

Russia was not invited to the conference and has dismissed the talks as an “anti-Russian gathering” that will not lead to peace.

“At the heart of this is a primitive attempt to advance an ultimatum to the Russian Federation, and the advancement of this as a conference — the conference in the Swiss city of Bürgenstock — is nothing other than a propagandistic hangout among friends with zero-added value,” Russian Deputy Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva told the council of the meeting planned for June 15-16 in the Swiss resort town.

“It is increasingly clear to more and more members of the international community that any discussions related to Russia’s sovereignty and security are futile if they are carried out without Russia’s representation, without taking into account its interests,” she added.

The Swiss ambassador said the conference is not directed against Russia.

“This is about offering a platform to a broad range of countries so that they can express their points of view and make proposals,” Baeriswyl said. “So as to move forward and contribute to preparing future possible talks on peace between the parties.”

Russia’s close ally China has said it wants a peaceful political solution to the crisis but has turned down an invitation to the conference because Russia is not invited.

The United States has voiced strong support for the Swiss conference. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to attend.

“We regret Russia has shown no support or readiness for good-faith negotiations or engagement on a durable peace,” U.S. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Robert Wood said. “We hope this will change and allow for a successful second summit with Russia’s participation.”

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