Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the world of “losing humanity” by refusing to provide a no-fly zone over his country, after a Russian air strike destroyed a maternity hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol.
Seventeen people, including women in labour, were injured in the attack. Video footage suggested the missile actually narrowly missed the hospital and smashed into the adjacent parking lot. The air strike occurred during what was supposed to be a ceasefire in Mariupol, which is on the Sea of Azov, and which has been under heavy attack since the first hours of the now two-week-old war.
“Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity!” Mr. Zelensky said in a social-media post. “How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity.”
Video footage of the maternity hospital taken after the blast showed a large crater in the ground just metres from the hospital. All the windows and part of the outer wall of the three-storey building were blown out by the force of the blast. Several cars in the parking lot were scorched.
The Ukrainian government said Wednesday that at least 1,170 people had been killed in Mariupol alone since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the attack on Ukraine. Satellite images of the port city published by Maxar, a private company, showed widespread damage to entire neighbourhoods.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International said a March 3 Russian air strike, which killed 47 people in the northern city of Chernihiv, “may constitute a war crime.” In the attack, at least eight unguided aerial munitions – known as “dumb bombs” – struck a public square in the city.
The avowedly neutral International Committee of the Red Cross also voiced concern at the fate of civilians in the conflict. “Families are huddled underground for hours on end to seek refuge from fighting. Hundreds of thousands of people have no food, no water, no heat, no electricity and no medical care,” the ICRC said in a statement.
Separately, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said power was out at the disused Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which is under Russian military control. Mr. Kuleba said the plant, which exploded in 1986 when both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union, could function on generators for 48 hours, after which cooling systems at the facility for spent nuclear fuel would stop, raising the possibility of radiation leaks.
“I call on the international community to urgently demand Russia to cease fire and allow repair units to restore power supply,” Mr. Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that “Russian forces do not fire on civilian targets.” Russia describes the war as a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and remove the supposedly “Nazi” government of Mr. Zelensky, who is Jewish.
Mr. Zelensky and his government have repeatedly asked for the 30-member NATO military alliance to impose a no-fly zone to stop Russian air strikes on Ukrainian cities.
Thousands of civilians have been killed since the war began, and more than 2.2 million Ukrainians, out of a prewar population of 44 million, have now fled the country.
In Berlin, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called the bombing of the hospital in Mariupol an “atrocity.” Ms. Freeland said Canada and other allies were helping Ukraine with military and economic supports as well as sanctions on Russia. But she acknowledged that support was only going so far.
“The reality is when it comes to the actual fighting, the Ukrainians are fighting alone,” she said. “They’re fighting for all of us, but they’re fighting alone. So I have to say speaking for myself as a person, I find those appeals incredibly moving.”
A 12-hour ceasefire was supposed to take effect Wednesday, allowing civilians to leave Mariupol, as well as four other front-line cities in Eastern Ukraine: Sumy, Enerhodar, Izyum and Volnovakha.
Five other humanitarian corridors were supposed to open to allow for women and children to leave the war-battered suburbs northwest of Kyiv, and travel to the relative safety of the centre of the Ukrainian capital.
Some convoys of evacuees managed to escape the suburbs of Kyiv, but explosions could be heard throughout the day in the capital, and heavy fighting continued throughout the country.
Thursday could include the highest-level diplomatic talks between Russia and Ukraine since the war began, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Mr. Kuleba expected to meet in the Turkish city of Antalya along with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Ukraine’s military says it has inflicted heavy losses on the invading army, and Russia acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that it had sent conscript soldiers across the border to take part in the invasion. Ukraine says it nonetheless needs protection from Russia’s much larger air force.
The United States on Tuesday rejected a surprise offer from Poland to transfer all its Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets – which Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly – to the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, so they could be transferred from there to Ukraine. The Pentagon and Germany have both dismissed the plans, fearing it could provoke a wider conflict between Russia and NATO.
Former Ukrainian Defence Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday that he hoped the U.S. would reconsider the Polish offer.
“We need more air defence capabilities, and these jets are perfect for intercepting the other planes in the air and even some missiles. So, of course, this would be a great addition to our air defence capabilities,” he said. “All this humanitarian crisis is partly caused by daily bombing and nightly bombing of Ukrainian cities – which we could address and that would be a huge part of our war effort.”
Russia has sought to portray itself as “liberating” Ukraine from Mr. Zelensky’s pro-Western government. However, in the southern city of Kherson – the largest centre so far to fall under Russian control – a large crowd of protesters took to the streets, waving Ukrainian flags and shouting at the occupying army to go home.
Russia’s National Guard, which is usually deployed to counter unrest at home, arrested more than 400 people.
“The city has a curfew. Nobody can go out,” Dementiy Biely, a political analyst based in the city, told The Globe in an exchange of messages. “Hardly anyone is safe from the occupation.”
With a report from Marieke Walsh in Berlin
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