YAUHEN YOUNG

MARIUPAL, Ukraine (AP) – A Russian airstrike on Wednesday destroyed a maternity hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol amid growing warnings from the West that Moscow’s invasion is about to take a tougher and more electoral turn. Ukrainian officials said at least 17 people were injured in the attack.

The ground shook for more than a mile when a series of explosions erupted in the Mariupol complex, breaking windows and tearing out most of the facade of one of the buildings. Police and military arrived at the scene to evacuate the victims, carrying a pregnant and bleeding woman on a stretcher as light snow fell on burning and mutilated cars and trees shattered by the blast.

Another woman cried, squeezing her baby. In the courtyard, the crater from the explosion stretched for at least two floors.

“Today, Russia has committed a huge crime,” said Vladimir Nikulin, a senior regional police official, standing in ruins. “It’s a war crime without acquittal.”

In Zhytomyr, a 260,000-strong city west of Kyiv, bombs fell on two hospitals, one of them a children’s hospital, Mayor Sergei Sukhamlin said on Facebook. According to him, no one was injured.

President Vladimir Zelensky said the attack on Mariupol had detained children and other people under the rubble.

“Children’s Hospital. Maternity hospital. What did they threaten the Russian Federation with? ” Zelensky asked in his night video address, switching to Russian to express the horror of the air strike. “What kind of country is this, a Russian Federation that is afraid of hospitals, afraid of maternity hospitals and destroying them?”

He called on the West to impose even tougher sanctions so that Russia “would no longer be able to continue this genocide.”

In the video shared by Zelensky, brightly painted hallways strewn with twisted metal can be seen.

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

The World Health Organization has said it has confirmed 18 attacks on medical facilities and ambulances since the fighting began, killing 10 people. It is unknown whether this figure includes storming the maternity hospital.

US Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken condemned Russia’s “unscrupulous attacks” in a conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmitry Kuleb, according to the State Department.

Two weeks after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, its military is feeling more than expected, but Putin’s invading force of more than 150,000 troops remains perhaps an insurmountable advantage in firepower as it strikes key cities.

Despite frequent heavy shelling of settlements, U.S. military officials said they had changed little over the past 24 hours, except for Russia’s progress in Kharkiv and Mykolaiv. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to assess the larger-scale military situation.

Authorities have announced a new ceasefire to allow thousands of civilians to flee the bombed-out cities. Zelensky said there were three humanitarian corridors on Wednesday: from Sumy in the northeast near the Russian border, from the suburbs of Kiev and from Energodar, the southern city where Russian forces seized a major nuclear power plant.

In total, according to him, about 35,000 people came out. A major evacuation was planned for Thursday.

People were fleeing from the suburbs of Kiev, many headed to the city center, as explosions were heard in the capital and repeatedly sounded the 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 suburbs of Kiev, Irpen, were forced to make their way through the slippery wooden planks of a makeshift bridge as Ukrainians blew up a concrete span leading to Kyiv a few days ago to slow the Russian offensive.

Behind the echo were rare shootings, firefighters dragged the elderly man to a safe place on a wheelbarrow, the child grabbed a soldier who was helping, and the woman moved forward, holding a furry cat in a winter coat. They rushed past a broken-down minibus with the words “Our Ukraine” written on it.

“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.”

Previous attempts to establish safe evacuation corridors over the past few days 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.

In Mariupol, a strategic city with a population of 430,000 in the Sea of ​​Azov, local authorities hastened to bury those killed in the last two weeks of fighting 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.

About 1,200 people died during the nine-day blockade of the city, Zelensky’s office said.

Thousands are believed to have been killed across the country, both civilians and soldiers, after 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 hostilities, the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant was decommissioned, which raised concerns about spent radioactive fuel 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 forces intensify bombing of cities in response to what appears to be stronger resistance from Ukraine and greater Russian losses than expected.

Echoing the CIA director’s remarks the day before, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia’s attack would become “tougher and more indiscriminate” if Putin tried to regain momentum.

The Biden administration has warned that Russia could seek to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, rejecting Russia’s claims of illegal chemical weapons development in the country it invaded.

This week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Ukraine of setting up US-backed chemical and biological weapons laboratories without evidence. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the statement “inappropriate” and said it could be part of Russia’s attempt to lay the groundwork for its own use of such weapons against Ukraine.

The British Ministry of Defense said that the fighting continues northwest of Kiev. 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.

On Wednesday, some of the Ukrainian volunteer fighters trained in a Kiev park with grenade launchers.

“I have one son,” said Nikolai Matulevsky, a 64-year-old retired martial arts coach who was with his son, Konstantin. “Everyone is my son.”

But now they will fight together: “It is impossible otherwise, because this is our Motherland. We must defend our Motherland in the first place. “

In Irpen, 60,000, police and military helped elderly residents out of 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.

Even worse is the situation in Mariupol, where on Tuesday efforts to evacuate residents and deliver much-needed food, water and medicine failed due to, according to Ukrainians, prolonged attacks by Russia.

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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Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanov from Lviv (Ukraine) and Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv along with other reporters from around the world.

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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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