Vadim GIRDA and JURAS KARMANOV

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – A Russian attack on Wednesday damaged a maternity hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, and citizens trying to avoid shelling on the outskirts of Kyiv sailed towards the capital amid Western warnings of invasion. Moscow. going to take a tougher and non-electoral turn.

President Vladimir Zelensky wrote on Twitter that “people, children” are under the rubble of the hospital, and called the strike “atrocity.” Authorities said they were trying to establish how many people were killed or injured.

In the video shared by Zelensky, you can see the cheerfully painted corridors, strewn with twisted metal, and room after room with broken windows. The floors were covered with debris.

Damaged cars burned down outside, and in a video provided by the Mariupol City Executive Committee, at least three two-story houses were badly damaged. Most of the facade of one building was torn out. The council called the damage “colossal.”

“Few things are more corrupt than targeting the vulnerable and defenseless,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be held accountable for his heinous crimes.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday morning, authorities announced a new ceasefire to allow thousands of civilians to flee cities around Kiev, as well as the southern cities of Mariupol, Energodar and Volnovakha, Raisins in the east and Sumy in the northeast.

Previous attempts to create safe evacuation corridors have largely failed due to, according to Ukrainians, Russian attacks. But in a telephone conversation with the German chancellor, Putin accused militant Ukrainian nationalists of obstructing the evacuation.

It was not immediately clear whether anyone was able to leave other cities on Wednesday, but people were fleeing the suburbs of Kiev, many headed downtown, even when the capital heard explosions and repeated sirens of air raids. From there, the evacuees planned to board trains heading to the western regions, which are not under attack.

Civilians leaving the Kiev suburb of Irpen were forced to make their way through the slippery wooden planks of a makeshift bridge as Ukrainians blew up a concrete flight to Kyiv a few days ago to slow the Russians’ advance.

Behind the scenes, occasional gunfire echoed, firefighters dragged the elderly man to safety in a wheelbarrow, a child grabbed a soldier to help, and a woman walked down the road, holding a furry cat in her winter coat. They rushed past a broken minibus with “Our Ukraine” written on the windows.

“Now we have little time,” said Yevhen Nishchuk, a soldier of the Territorial Defense of Ukraine. “Even if there is a ceasefire now, there is a high risk of shells falling at any moment.”

In Mariupol, local authorities hurried to bury the dead in a mass grave. City workers dug a trench about 25 meters (yards) long in one of the old city cemeteries and laid a cross, tossing over the edge bodies wrapped in carpets or sacks.

Thousands are believed to have been killed across the country, both civilians and soldiers, in the two weeks of fighting since Putin’s invasion. The UN estimates that more than 2 million people have fled the country, making it the largest exodus of refugees to Europe since the end of World War II.

As a result of the fighting, the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant was cut off by electricity, which raised concerns about spent fuel, which is stored on site and should be stored in the cold. But the UN nuclear watchdog said the loss of electricity “does not see a critical impact on security.”

The crisis is likely to worsen as Moscow troops intensify bombing of cities in response to what appears to be stronger resistance from Ukraine and greater losses from Russia than expected.

Echoing the CIA director, the British defense minister said Russia’s attack would become “tougher and more indiscriminate” if Putin tried to regain momentum.

The British Ministry of Defense said that the fighting continues northwest of Kiev. The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol came under heavy fire and remained surrounded by Russian troops.

Russian troops are deploying military equipment on farms and among homes in the northern city of Chernihiv, the Ukrainian military said. In the south, Russians in plainclothes are attacking the city of Nikolaev, the center of the Black Sea shipbuilding with a population of half a million.

The Ukrainian military, meanwhile, is stepping up defense in cities in the north, south and east, and forces around Kyiv are “holding the line” against the Russian offensive, authorities said.

In Irpen, 60,000, police and military helped elderly residents leave their homes. One man was lifted from a damaged structure on a makeshift stretcher, and another was pushed towards Kiev in a wheelchair. Residents who fled said they had been without electricity and water for the past four days.

The head of the regional administration Alexei Kuleba said that the crisis for the civilian population is deepening in Kiev and its environs, especially the difficult situation in the suburbs.

“Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kiev region, preventing the evacuation of people and continuing shelling and bombing of small towns,” he said.

The situation is even worse in Mariupol, a strategic city with a population of 430,000 in the Sea of ‚Äč‚ÄčAzov, which has been surrounded by Russian troops last week.

Attempts to evacuate residents and deliver much-needed food, water and medicine on Tuesday failed because, according to Ukrainians, Russian attacks continue.

The city took advantage of the lull during Wednesday’s shelling to hastily bury 70 people. Some were military, but most were civilians.

The work was carried out qualitatively and unceremoniously. There were no mourners or families to say goodbye.

One woman stood at the cemetery gate to ask if her mother was among those buried. She was.

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Karmanov reported from Lviv (Ukraine). Associated Press reporters Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv, along with reporters from around the world, contributed to the report.

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Follow the coverage of the crisis in Ukraine in the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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