Ukraine says Russia bombed children’s hospital in besieged Mariupol

By | March 9, 2022
  • Hospital hit by several Russian bombs, city council says
  • Russia had earlier agreed to ceasefire for evacuation
  • Moscow denies targeting civilians
  • Kyiv calls for ceasefire to restore Chernobyl power

LVIV, Ukraine, March 9 (Reuters) – A Russian air strike badly damaged a children’s hospital in the besieged Ukranian port city of Mariupol on Wednesday, burying patients under rubble and injuring women in labour, Ukraine said.

The bombing, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called an “atrocity,” took place despite an agreed ceasefire to enable thousands of civilians trapped in the city to escape.

The city council said the hospital had been hit several times by an air strike, causing “colossal” destruction.

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“Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage,” Zelenskiy said on Twitter.

Kremlin related Dmitry Peskov, asked by Reuters for comment, said: “Russian forces do not fire on civilian targets.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry posted footage of what it said was the hospital showing blasted-out windows and piles of smouldering rubble.

The Donetsk region’s governor said 17 people were wounded, including women in labour. The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine was verifying the number of casualites, a UN spokesperson in Geneva said.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had broken the ceasefire around the southern port, which lies between Russian-backed separatist areas of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, annexed by Moscow from Ukraine in 2014.

“Russia continues holding hostage over 400,000 people in Mariupol, blocks humanitarian aid and evacuation. Indiscriminate shelling continues,” he wrote on Twitter. “Almost 3,000 newborn babies lack medicine and food.”

Ukraine said 67 children across the country had been killed since the invasion and at least 1,170 civilians had died in Mariupol.

It was not possible to verify the figures, but satellite image company Maxar said images showed extensive damage to homes, apartment buildings, grocery stores and shopping centers.

Russia’s defense ministry blamed Ukraine for the failure of the evacuation.

A senior US defense official said there were indications Russia’s military was using bombs that are not precision-guided. read more

Local officials said some civilians had left several Ukranian cities through safe corridors, including out of Sumy in the east and Enerhodar in the south, but that Russian forces were preventing buses from evacuating civilians from Bucha, a town outside the capital Kyiv.

HUDDLED UNDERGROUND

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said houses had been reduced to rubble all across Ukraine.

“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.”

More than 2 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Feb 24. Moscow calls its action a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbor and dislodge leaders it calls “neo-Nazis.”

Kyiv and its Western allies say Russia is inventing pretexts to justify an unprovoked war against a democratic country of 44 million people.

Russian forces hold territory along Ukraine’s northeast border, the east and the southeast. Fighting has taken place in the outskirts of Kyiv, while Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv is under bombardment.

A Russian assault force is stalled north of Kyiv and Western countries say the Kremlin has had to adjust its plan to swiftly topple the government in the face of fierce resistance.

Thousands more Ukrainian refugees, most of them woman and children, crossed borders in neighboring countries on Wednesday.

Irina Mihalenka had left her home northeast of the Black Sea port of Odessa after hiding in the basement to shelter from Russian bombing, she told Reuters in Isaccea, Romania.

“When we were walking, a bridge was blown up. And when we crossed over the wreckage, because there was no other way out, there were corpses of Russian people (soldiers) lying there,” she said after reaching sanctuary.

Kuleba was due to meet Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Turkey on Thursday.

He said in a statement Ukraine wanted a ceasefire, liberation of its territories, and to resolve all humanitarian issues, but he added: “Frankly…my expectations of the talks are low.”

Moscow says its demands, including that Kyiv takes a neutral position and drops aspirations of joining the NATO alliance, must be met for it to end its assault.

CHERNOBYL

Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator said it was concerned for safety at Chernobyl, mothballed site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, where it said a power cut caused by fighting meant spent nuclear fuel could not be cooled. Russia’s defense ministry blamed Ukraine for the power cut.

Kuleba said reserve diesel generators had a 48-hour capacity. “After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent,” he said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the heat generated by the spent fuel and the volume of cooling water were such that it was “sufficient for effective heat removal without need for electrical supply”. read more

A nuclear expert with knowledge of the plant’s system said a key question would be how rapidly power can be restored.

“The power cut could lead to water in the storage facility evaporating and exposure of spent fuel rods,” said the expert, who declined to be identified. “They could eventually melt and that could lead to significant radiation releases.”

RETALIATORY MEASURES

The war has brought Russia economic isolation as foreign governments and institutions imposed heavy sanctions and businesses shut operations. The World Bank’s chief economist told Reuters it was edging close to defaulting on its debt.

Putin’s government took more measures to shore up the economy and said it would respond to a US ban on its oil and energy exports as the rouble dropped to record lows. read more

The ruling United Russia party proposed seizing the assets of foreign companies that leave as more Western companies announced they were pulling out.

Ukraine and Russia are huge exporters of food and metals, accounting for nearly a third of the global grain trade. Prices of food staples have soured worldwide in what is rapidly becoming a global food crisis.

Ukraine said on Wednesday it was halting key agricultural exports for the rest of the year. Russia too said it needed to maintain domestic supplies of grain.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaus, Writing by Peter Graff and Philippa Flecther, Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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