More than 14,000 people have been displaced in recent days from Ukraine's eastern Kharkiv region, where Russia launched a ground offensive on May 10, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

The assault has seen Russian forces achieve their largest territorial gains in Ukraine in the last 18 months.

"Over the past two weeks, fighting in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine has severely escalated," Jarno Habicht, the WHO's representative in Ukraine, told a press briefing in Geneva, via video-link from Kyiv.

"Over 14,000 people have been displaced in a matter of days, and nearly 189,000 more still reside within 25 kilometres of the border with the Russian Federation, facing significant risks due to the ongoing fighting," he said.

He said the UN health agency was using these figures after speaking with local authorities.


"With the worsening security situation, humanitarian needs in the region are growing, and growing fast," Habicht said.

The offensive in Kharkiv "has significantly increased the number of trauma patients", he added.

Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Since then, more than 20,000 amputations have been carried out, said Habicht.

And 200 ambulances per year, on average, have been damaged or destroyed in shelling attacks, "depriving the Ukrainian people of urgent care", he added.

- Situation 'worsening' -

The UNHCR voiced concerns that conditions in Kharkiv -- already home to 200,000 internally displaced people -- could become even more difficult if the ground assault and aerial attacks continue.

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The primary target of the strike was Starokonstyantyniv in the Khmelnytsky region, which is widely thought to be home to a vast Ukrainian air base.

"UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, is extremely worried about the worsening situation and resulting spike in humanitarian needs and forced displacement owing to the new ground offensive," spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told the Geneva briefing.

She said the Ukrainian authorities had evacuated more than 10,300 people from villages in the Kharkiv region's border areas, while others have left by their own means.


"The majority of the evacuees, who had to escape their homes with only a few belongings, are already highly vulnerable and include mainly older people and those with low mobility or disabilities who were not able to flee earlier," Mantoo said.

Those registered at a transit centre in Kharkiv city have been given basic relief items and advised on accommodation options.

"The vast majority of evacuees have expressed a clear wish to stay with family members or in rental accommodation and collective sites in Kharkiv and not move further from their homes, to be able to return when the situation allows," Mantoo said.

The United Nations' 2024 humanitarian plan for Ukraine amounts to $3.1 billion this year. UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci said that it was thus far only 23 percent funded.

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