Ukraine accuses Russia of bombing childrens’ hospital in besieged Mariupol

  • 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) – Ukraine accused Russia on Wednesday of bombing a children’s hospital in the besieged port of Mariupol during a supposed ceasefire to enable some of the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the city to escape.

Russia had said it would hold fire to let civilians flee Mariupol and other besieged cities on Wednesday. But the city council said the hospital had been hit several times.

“The destruction is colossal,” it said in an online post.

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President Volodymr Zelenskiy called it an “atrocity”.

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

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

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry posted video footage of what appeared to be the badly damaged building of what it said was the children’s and maternity hospital.

The footage showed holes where windows should have been in a three-storey building at the hospital, and huge piles of rubble, some of it smouldering. Officials said they did not yet know any casualty figures. The reports could not immediately be verified.

Earlier 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.”

Local officials in other cities said some civilians had left on Wednesday through safe corridors, including out of Sumy in eastern Ukraine and Enerhodar in the south.

However, Russian forces were preventing a convoy of 50 buses from evacuating civilians from the town of Bucha outside Kyiv, local authorities said in an online post, adding that talks continued to allow the convoy to leave.

Both sides have accused each other of violating ceasefires that would allow to evacuate Mariupol, which Russian forces have kept under siege for more than a week.

On Tuesday, the Red Cross called conditions inside the city “apocalyptic”, with residents sheltering underground from relentless bombardment, with no access to food, water, power or heat.

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

The United Nations human rights office in Geneva, just prior to the reports of the hospital attack, said it had verified 516 civilian deaths and 908 people wounded since the conflict began.

CHERNOBYL

Kyiv and its Western allies say Russia is inventing pretexts to justify an unprovoked war against a democratic country of 44 million people, including by accusing Ukraine of having tried to develop biological or nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, the Kremlin said Washington must explain “Ukrainian biological weapons labs”, a suggestion Washington has already dismissed as “absurd propaganda”. read more

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

Foreign minister 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

‘RETALIATORY MEASURES’

The war has swiftly cast Russia into economic isolation as well as drawing almost universal international condemnation.

The United States said on Tuesday it was banning imports of Russian oil, a major policy change after energy was previously exempted from sanctions, while Western companies kept pulling out from the Russian market.

Russia’s ruling United Russia party said it proposed seizing the assets of foreign companies that leave.

Banishing Russia, the world’s top exporter of combined oil and gas, from markets is sending shockwaves through the global economy at a time when inflation in the developed world is already at levels not seen since the 1980s. Retail fuel pump prices have surged to records.

Both Ukraine and Russia are also huge exporters of food and metals. Together they account for nearly a third of the global grain trade, which even dwarfs Russia’s role in energy. Prices of food staples have soared worldwide, punishing far-flung countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

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. In the latest sign of what was rapidly becoming a global food crisis, Indonesia said it would curb sales of palm oil after global prices surged. read more

Trade in nickel, critical in electric vehicle production, was called off on Tuesday in London after the price more than doubled.

Supply shortages caused by the war forced Volkswagen to halt new orders for plug-in hybrid vehicles in Germany from Wednesday. read more

High oil prices prompted by Russia’s invasion could cut a full percentage point off the growth of big developing economies such as China, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, a World Bank official said.

Western countries believe Moscow had aimed to quickly topple the Kyiv government in a lightning strike, and is being forced to adjust after underestimating Ukrainian resistance. Russia has taken substantial territory in the south but has yet to capture any major cities in northern or eastern Ukraine, with an assault force stalled on a highway north of Kyiv.

Russia is desperate for some kind of victory in cities like Mariupol and Kyiv, before it negotiates, Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.

“Therefore, our task is to withstand for the next 7-10 days,” he said.

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

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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