(Mariupol, Ukraine) — A Russian airstrike devastated a maternity hospital Wednesday in the besieged port city of Mariupol amid growing warnings from the West that Moscow’s invasion is about to take a more brutal and indiscriminate turn. According to Ukrainian officials, at least 17 were injured in the attack.
More than one mile from the Mariupol Complex, a series explosions exploded and destroyed much of the building’s front. Soldiers and police rushed on the scene to help evacuate the victims. They also carried a pregnant woman who was bleeding and heavily pregnant to safety.
As another woman clutched her baby, she cried. The courtyard was filled with mangled vehicles that were set on fire, as well as a blast crater, which reached at least two stories high.
“Today Russia committed a huge crime,” said Volodymir Nikulin, a top regional police official, standing in the ruins. “It is a war crime without any justification.”
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that there were “people, children under the wreckage” and called the strike an “atrocity.” Video shared by Zelenskyy showed cheerfully painted hallways strewn with twisted metal.
“There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and defenseless,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be held “to account for his terrible crimes.”
Authorities announced Wednesday morning a new cease-fire to enable thousands of civilians escape the bombardments in Kyiv, Enerhodar, Volnovakha and Mariupol in the south and Sumy, Sumy, and Izyum to the east.
It was not immediately clear whether anyone was able to leave other cities, but people streamed out of Kyiv’s suburbs, many headed for the city center, as explosions were heard in the capital and air raid sirens sounded repeatedly.
The evacuees hoped to get on trains that would take them to the western Ukrainian areas not under attack.
To slow down the Russian advance, civilians had to leave Irpin in Kyiv and cross slippery wooden planks.
The sound of gunfire behind them lent support as firefighters pulled an elderly man in safety. Children held the hands of soldiers and children, and women pushed their way forward, with one woman holding a kitten in her arms. They trudged past a crashed van with the words “Our Ukraine” written in the dust coating its windows.
“We have a short window of time at the moment,’’ said Yevhen Nyshchuk, a member of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces. “Even if there is a cease-fire right now, there is a high risk of shells falling at any moment.”
The Ukrainians claimed that Russian aggressions had caused previous attempts to create safe evacuation routes. But Putin, in a telephone call with Germany’s chancellor, accused militant Ukrainian nationalists of hampering the evacuations.
Mariupol’s local authorities raced to find a mass grave for the body of those who had died during the two-week-long fighting. City workers dug a trench some 25 meters (yards) long at one of the city’s old cemeteries and made the sign of the cross as they pushed bodies wrapped in carpets or bags over the edge.
Russian forces have been invading the city of 430,000 residents on the Sea of Azov for the past week.
Nationwide, thousands are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, since Putin’s forces invaded. According to the U.N., more than 2,000,000 people fled Russia since Putin’s invasion. This is the largest exodus in Europe for refugees since World War II.
Fighting knocked off power at Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor, raising concerns about radioactive fuel stored there that must be kept cool. But the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said it saw “no critical impact on safety” from the loss of power.
The crisis is likely to get worse as Moscow’s forces step up their bombardment of cities in response to what appear to be stronger Ukrainian resistance and heavier Russian losses than anticipated.
Echoing remarks from the director of the CIA a day earlier, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia’s assault will get “more brutal and more indiscriminate” as Putin tries to regain momentum.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said fighting continued northwest of Kyiv. Russian forces continued to surround the cities of Mariupol, Chernihiv and Sumy, and were heavily shelling them.
Russian forces are placing military equipment on farms and amid residential buildings in the northern city of Chernihiv, Ukraine’s military said. According to the military, in the southern part of the country, civilian-clad Russians are attacking Mykolaiv. This is the Black Sea shipbuilding hub of half a millenials.
The Ukrainian military, meanwhile, is building up defenses in cities in the north, south and east, and forces around Kyiv are “holding the line” against the Russian offensive, authorities said.
On Wednesday, some of Ukraine’s volunteer fighters trained in a Kyiv park with rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
“I have only one son,” said Mykola Matulevskiy, a 64-year-old retired martial arts coach, who was with his son, Kostyantin. “Everything is my son.”
But now they will fight together: “It’s not possible to have it in another way because it’s our motherland. We must defend our motherland first of all.”
Irpin is a village of around 60,000 people where soldiers and police helped the elderly get out their houses. On a stretcher made from scrap metal, one man was lifted out of the damaged building while the other was pulled in a shopping cart toward Kyiv. Residents fleeing the scene said that they were without water and power for four days.
Oleksiy Kuleba, head of the regional administration said that the crisis facing civilians in Kyiv is getting worse. The situation is especially dire in the suburbs.
“Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kyiv region, frustrating the evacuation of people and continuing shelling and bombing small communities,” he said.
Mariupol has a worse situation. Tuesday’s failure to deliver desperately-needed food, water, and medicine due to what the Ukrainians called continued Russian attacks, meant that efforts were made to evacuate those residing there.
It took advantage Wednesday of the lull between shelling and was able to quickly bury 70 civilians. While there were some soldiers involved, the majority of those buried were civilians.
The ceremony was performed efficiently without any ceremonies. There were no mourners or families present to say goodbye.
One woman stood in front of the cemetery gate to inquire if her mother was one of those being buried. Her mother was.
Felipe Dana in Kyiv, Ukraine and Yuras Karamanau, Associated Press journalists in Lviv, Ukraine contributed, as did Andrew Drake and Felipe Dana, all other correspondents around the globe.