GENEVA (Reuters) -The civilian death toll in Ukraine last month rose sharply, to 174, which was the highest level in nearly a year amid an increase in missile and bomb strikes in populated areas around Kharkiv, the U.N. human rights office said on Friday.

Overall, the May toll represented an increase of 31% from April and the highest since June 2023, according to the report from the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

Russia launched an offensive in the Kharkiv region, bordering Russia, in May, and the city has been hit almost daily with attacks intensifying in recent weeks. Strikes have sometimes hit civilian infrastructure such as a shopping centre on May 25, killing 19 civilians, the report said.

Other deadly strikes last month hit a recreation centre, a printing house and a multi-storey residential building, it said.

"The attacks on a shopping centre and printing house in Kharkiv city highlight the stark vulnerability of civilians engaged in everyday activities, where even routine tasks like buying supplies to repair damaged homes can result in the loss of life and loved ones," said Danielle Bell, head of the Ukraine monitoring mission.

Both Russia and Ukraine deny targeting civilians in the war that is now in its third year.

(Reporting by Emma FargeEditing by Miranda Murray and Friederike Heine)