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A Ukrainian service member walks near a school building destroyed by shelling in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, a city west of Kyiv, on March 4, 2022.VIACHESLAV RATYNSKYI/Reuters

Ukraine was a country in agony Friday, with its capital hit by more missile strikes and multiple cities under a grinding Russian siege.

As Russian forces continued to surround or partly surround major centres such as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lashed out at the NATO military alliance’s refusal to impose a no-fly zone over his country. “Today the alliance’s leadership gave a green light to the further bombardment of Ukrainian towns and villages, refusing to establish a no-fly zone,” he said in a video address. “Every person who dies from today will die because of you.”

Thousands of people have been killed and more than one million have fled Ukraine since the war began just over a week ago. In televised remarks Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the war was going “according to plan.”

At a children’s hospital in the northern city of Chernihiv, which is surrounded on all sides by Russian forces, the cancer ward has run out of painkillers and will soon run out of food.

“I need most to be in a secure place and to continue his treatment. It means to leave this city, which is being occupied every day, every hour, more and more,” said Yana, the mother of two-year-old Nikita, one of the 11 children trapped in the cancer ward, in a video shared with The Globe and Mail. “We want to be moved to a secure place. Just to continue our treatment. There’s nothing more I need.”

Yana and her two-year-old son Nikita are among the people trapped in the basement of the Chernihiv Regional Children’s Hospital. In a video shared with The Globe, Yana pleads for a safe place for her to continue treatment for Nikita's leukemia.

The Globe and Mail

The video was filmed in the bomb shelter beneath the Chernihiv Regional Children’s Hospital. On Thursday alone, 47 people were killed in Russian air strikes on the city of 285,000, just 70 kilometres from the Belarusian border.

“Our morgue is full now,” said Serhiy Zosimenko, who works for a non-governmental organization that supports the cancer ward. “They destroyed two schools and two volunteer centres. Because they want to make a humanitarian catastrophe here in Chernihiv. They know that the volunteers help with food and medicine and medical supplies for civilians. That’s why they decided to kill them all.”

In Kyiv, more than a dozen explosions were heard Friday. It wasn’t immediately clear what had been targeted. A 65-kilometre-long line of Russian military vehicles – compared to a medieval siege convoy – has been stalled for several days on its way to the capital, apparently amid logistical issues and fierce resistance.

Air raid sirens wailed throughout the country Friday, though NATO countries continued to reject Mr. Zelensky’s plea for a no-fly zone. NATO has argued that sending warplanes into Ukraine’s skies would lead to an even wider war.

“Allies agree that we should not have NATO planes operating in Ukrainian airspace or NATO troops on Ukrainian territory,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after a crisis meeting with foreign ministers from the military alliance’s 30 member countries in Brussels.

Mr. Putin, meanwhile, said Russia had “no ill intentions” toward its neighbours. “I would also advise them not to escalate the situation,” he added.

In the town of Volnovakha, on the front line in eastern Ukraine, local MP Dmytro Lubinets said the dead are too numerous to count.

“I can’t tell you figures at all – we can’t guess how many people left. There are definitely indeed bodies lying on the streets because we can’t get to them to deliver burials,” Mr. Lubinets said in a telephone interview. He said thousands of people were still stuck in the town, which had a pre-war population of 21,000, even though it was being pounded by relentless Russian shelling. “There are two schools we can’t reach and know there are huge basements used as shelters, but we can’t get there, so we don’t know the conditions.”

Footage provided by local Member of Parliament Dmytro Lubinets shows the destruction of Volnovakha, Ukraine on March 4.

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Marina Tsyplonok and her family escaped Volnovakha after a week of living first in a basement with 20 people, then a larger one with 37, as shells rained down and food and water ran out. On Thursday morning, a Ukrainian soldier came and told everyone they had five minutes to evacuate.

“To be honest, we’re confused about what day it is, because it was seven days of total hell living in the basement,” the 37-year-old mother of three said. “One of the children in the shelter had Asperger’s. He was screaming all night and asking to go home. Nobody could explain the situation to him.”

Russian troops briefly entered the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv on Friday but were repelled, Ukrainian officials said. In nearby Kherson, the first major city to fall under Russian control, Mayor Igor Kolykhaev told residents that under rules set by the Russian military, they could only go outside with just one other person and that cars should drive slowly. The dead, which the city said numbered 49, would be collected from the city’s main square, he said.

“For now, the flag flying above us is Ukrainian,” he said in a Facebook post. “And in order to stay that way, these requirements must be met. This is all I can offer for now.”

Mr. Kolykhaev later complained that Russian forces had prevented a humanitarian aid convoy from entering the city.

In places now under Russian occupation, fears of a different sort prevail. In Berdiansk, television service has been cut, leaving screens blank after Russian forces took control Feb. 27. The next day, hundreds of local residents protested, waving Ukrainian flags and singing hymns. Since then, an uneasy calm has descended, with Russian troops at checkpoints on roads leading into the city, and residents ordered to obey a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

Fuel is in such short supply that city buses have reduced service. Only a few grocery stores and gas stations remain open. “We are pretty worried that we will run out of food, we will run out of water,” said Sophia Podkolzina, who works for a company providing social media services to international clients.

Mariupol, a city of 450,000 people on the Sea of Azov, is surrounded by Russian forces and cut off from the world. Phone lines have been disconnected for the past three days. There is no water or electricity service. Homes are without heat, with nighttime temperatures at freezing.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional administration, likened it to the Second World War siege of Leningrad (today’s St. Petersburg) by the Nazis.

“This is a demonstration of the massacre of a city which has refused to surrender to the ‘Russian world,’” Mr. Kyrylenko wrote on Facebook, where he has maintained regular updates of destruction in the region.

On Friday, city workers began delivering water by tanker truck, Mr. Kyrylenko said, while attacks continued to strike neighbourhoods, a supermarket and a hospital. Shelling had cut electricity service in a number of nearby communities, and workers were scrambling to repair broken natural gas pipelines.

“The city is constantly being bombed and shot by artillery and guns,” said Dmitry Savenkoy, a Mariupol resident who is not currently in Ukraine. His last contact with the city was a brief call with a colleague three days ago. It is a “humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

In Toretsk, a city of 31,000 about 200 kilometres north of Mariupol, the municipality’s 19 boilers have all run out of natural gas, leaving 400 residential buildings, eight schools, nine kindergartens and 10 medical institutions without heat.

Meanwhile, a huge fire at a facility adjacent to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant – the largest in Europe – was extinguished early Friday, hours after Russian forces had taken control of the facility.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said Russia was committing war crimes.

“Russia is fighting with a deliberate violation of all conventions, laws and rules of war, trying to cause maximum damage to Ukrainian critical infrastructure, civilian infrastructure and ordinary people. Trying to cause maximum panic moods and the refugee crisis,” he said in a statement released by the Ministry of Defence. “The Russian command could not help knowing what threatens Ukraine and, frankly, the whole of Europe, with a large-scale tank attack directed against the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. … The consequences, the risks, the amount of destruction – everything was thought out by the Russians in advance.”

Mr. Podolyak made the statement early Thursday, after a third round of negotiations failed to reach either a ceasefire or an agreement on humanitarian evacuation corridors.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with a population of 1.4 million, researcher Maria Avdeeva filmed herself standing in the city’s main square, days after the adjacent regional administration building was damaged in a cruise missile attack.

“We still have Ukrainian flags here. Because Ukraine and Kharkiv are fighting,” she said. “We are fighting back furiously and we will not surrender. We will stand here on our land, and in our city, for as long as it takes.”

  • This general view shows destroyed Russian armored vehicles in the city of Bucha, west of Kyiv.AFP Contributor#AFP/AFP/Getty Images

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