One-third of Ukrainians have been driven from their homes and the scale of civilian casualties and infrastructure damage is "shocking," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Wednesday.
Yet NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Russia was actually regrouping and is expected to mount a "major" offensive in the spring.
Türk, speaking from Ukraine at the conclusion of a four-day visit, said 6.5 million Ukrainians have fled their homes for shelter within the battered nation of more than 40 million people. Another 7.8 million Ukrainians have been recorded as refugees across Europe, he said.
As of Dec. 1, 17,023 civilians have been killed since Feb. 24 when the war began, including 419 children, according to U.N. statistics. Türk said the number is likely much higher - and rising.
"I fear that there is one long, bleak winter ahead for Ukraine," Türk said. "The consequences of the war on the enjoyment of human rights for people in the country have already been devastating, and the prognosis is very worrying."
Freezing temperatures and lack of heat and even running water because of bomb-damaged infrastructure have sharply raised the risk for people already vulnerable across Ukraine, he said, among them the elderly, the very young, the poor and sick.
"My plea is to everyone engaged in hostilities to respect (humanitarian law) fully, especially in the most difficult, most emotional circumstance," he said, adding that "a violation by one party does not legitimize violations by another."
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, claimed Ukraine wanted to destroy Russians "so that they stop existing as a country." He defended the missile and drone attacks on cities, saying attacks targeted infrastructure used for military purposes.
UKRAINE STRIKES RUSSIA: US says it 'neither encouraged nor enabled' drone attacks
►White House spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday reaffirmed that the Biden administration is not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike inside Russia. "We have been consistent on our concerns over escalation. We have not encouraged them to do that," Kirby told reporters. "But in the end, ... these are decisions that they make and that they have to speak to."
►At least 16 people were killed when a truck carrying military personnel collided with a minibus in a Russian-controlled area of the hotly contested Donetsk region of Ukraine, Russian authorities said.
►The Help Ukraine Center, a group of volunteers that brings in aid through its main warehouse in neighboring Poland, appealed to donors on its website: "NO MORE CLOTHES PLEASE." The center still seeks medical products, food and hygiene products.
Time names Zelenskyy its person of the year
Time Magazine named Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy its person of the year, saying "this year's choice was the most clear-cut in memory." The magazine said Zelenskyy "galvanized the world in a way we haven't seen in decades," crediting his decision not to flee Kyiv after Russia's invasion began Feb. 24.
"From his first 40-second Instagram post on Feb. 25 - showing that his Cabinet and civil society were intact and in place - to daily speeches delivered remotely to the likes of houses of Parliament, the World Bank, and the Grammy Awards, Ukraine's President was everywhere," Time wrote. "His information offensive shifted the geopolitical weather system, setting off a wave of action that swept the globe."
Russia broadcaster wants military to target Kyiv's Maidan Square
Popular Russian broadcaster Alexander Sladkov urged the Russian military to strike the center of Kyiv "for the sake of peace in the Donbass." Sladkov suggested attacks target Maidan Square, home to the Independence Monument that honors Ukraine's liberation from the Soviet Union in 1991. Sladkov said efforts to enter into negotiations aimed at a ceasefire in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the industrial eatDonbas will remain futile until Kyiv feels the full effect of Moscow's might.
"Until we make mincemeat of the center of Kyiv, the shelling of Donetsk will not stop," he said.
NATO expects major Russian offensive in spring
Russia is trying to "freeze" the war to regroup its troops over the winter months before starting a "major offensive" in the spring, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday. He said NATO would continue the "unprecedented" supply of arms and support to Ukraine despite concerns Western weaponry stockpiles could be depleted.
Stoltenberg said he had no information on Ukraine's apparent drone strikes into Russia but said Kyiv was fighting to protect itself as Moscow bombards civilian infrastructure.
"They need a vast amount of ammunition, spare parts and also maintenance," Stoltenberg added.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: 'Major' Russian offensive expected in spring