World leaders condemn attack as 'war crime'

Ukraine hospital attack said to kill 3, including a child; Russia: Military used it

17 injured in bombing of medical center in Mariupol according to city council; Kremlin says it’ll look into airstrike but Putin’s foreign minister insists site was used by fighters

A medical worker walks inside a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. A Russian attack severely damaged the hospital in the besieged port city, Ukrainian officials say. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A medical worker walks inside a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. A Russian attack severely damaged the hospital in the besieged port city, Ukrainian officials say. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

MARIUPOL, Ukraine — An airstrike on a hospital in the port of Mariupol killed three people, including a child, the city council said Thursday, and Russian forces intensified their siege of Ukrainian cities, even as the top diplomats from both sides met for the first time since the war began.

The attack a day earlier in the besieged southern city wounded 17 people, including women waiting to give birth, doctors and children buried in the rubble. Bombs also fell on two hospitals in another city west of the capital Kyiv.

The World Health Organization said it has confirmed 18 attacks on medical facilities since the Russian invasion began two weeks ago.

The Kremlin said it will approach the Russian military for details of the strike, which Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky called a “war crime.”

“We will certainly ask our military about this, since we don’t have clear information about what happened there. Without fail, the military will provide some kind of information,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, as Moscow’s advance into Ukraine enters its third week.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that the hospital had been serving as a military base for nationalists.

“This maternity hospital has long been occupied by the Azov Battalion and other radicals. They drove out the women in labor, nurses and general staff. It was the base of the ultra-radical Azov Battalion,” Lavrov said, following talks in Turkey with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Photos following the attack showed injured pregnant women.

Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from maternity hospital destroyed by Russian bombing in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy envoy to the United Nations, backed up Lavrov and dismissed the reports that a maternity hospital was hit as “fake news.”

Responding to a tweet from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who called the strike “horrific,” Polyanskiy wrote that Russia had earlier this week warned the hospital was “turned into a military object by radicals.”

Britain’s Armed Forces minister, James Heappey, said that whether hitting the hospital was “indiscriminate” fire into a built-up area or a deliberate targeting, “it is a war crime.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also labeled the attack a war crime, saying, “We’re seeing how hospitals are being bombed. They are attacking civil society in an indiscriminate manner, therefore clearly violating human rights and more than likely committing war crimes.

“Such war crimes cannot go unpunished,” Sanchez said during a visit to a Ukrainian refugee center near Madrid.

A pregnant woman walks downstairs at the Russia-bombarded maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Little progress

As the war entered its third week, Western officials said Russian forces have made little progress on the ground in recent days, but they have intensified the bombardment of Mariupol and other cities, trapping hundreds of thousands of people, with food and water running short. Temporary ceasefires to allow evacuations have often faltered, with Ukraine accusing Russia of continuing their bombardments. But Zelensky said 35,000 people managed to get out on Wednesday from several besieged towns.

The Mariupol city council posted a video Thursday showing buses driving down a highway, with a note saying that a convoy bringing food and medicine was on the way despite several days of thwarted efforts to reach the city.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk pleaded Thursday with the Russian military to allow access for repair to a damaged gas pipeline in the south that has left Mariupol and other towns without heat for days.

Two other hospitals were also hit in Zhytomyr, a city west of Kyiv, Mayor Serhii Sukhomlyn said on Facebook. He said there were no injuries.

“Everyone is working to get help to the people of Mariupol. And it will come,” said Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko.

On the western edge of Kyiv, artillery fire could be heard Thursday, Deputy Interior Minister Vadym Denysenko said. He told Ukrainian TV channel Rada that residents had a “rather difficult” night on the outskirts of the capital in which Russian forces started by targeting military sites but then hit residential areas.

A woman who was evacuated areas around the Ukrainian capital, carries two babies after arriving at a triage point in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. 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. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Meanwhile, the sides held their highest-level talks so far Thursday. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped the meeting between Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in a Turkish Mediterranean resort “will open the door to a permanent ceasefire.”

Kuleba said the two sides discussed a 24-hour ceasefire but did not make progress. He said Russia was still seeking “a surrender from Ukraine.”

“This is not what they are going to get,” he said, adding that he was willing to continue the dialogue.

Authorities announced new ceasefires to allow thousands of civilians to escape bombarded towns, with evacuations planned Thursday from towns and cities under bombardment in eastern and southern Ukraine — including Mariupol — as well as the Kyiv suburbs.

Previous attempts to establish safe evacuation corridors over the past few days largely failed because of what the Ukrainians said were Russian attacks. But Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a telephone call with Germany’s chancellor, accused militant Ukrainian nationalists of hampering the evacuations.

International Red Cross spokesman Jason Straziuso said safe passage corridors were welcome but have to be well planned, with details agreed on by all sides including the right to bring in food, clean water, medical supplies and other necessities.

Such guarantees are vital for places like Mariupol, a city of 430,000 on the Sea of Azov, where Zelensky’s office said about 1,200 people have died during the nine-day siege.

Local authorities hurried to bury the dead from the past two weeks of fighting in a mass grave in the 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 in bodies wrapped in carpets or bags.

Dead bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022, as people cannot bury their dead because of the heavy shelling by Russian forces. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Nationwide, thousands are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, since Putin’s forces invaded. The UN estimates more than 2 million people have fled the country, the biggest exodus of refugees in Europe since the end of World War II.

Russia’s military is struggling more than expected, but Putin’s invading force of more than 150,000 troops retains possibly insurmountable advantages in firepower as it bears down on key cities.

Despite often heavy shelling on populated areas, American military officials reported little change on the ground over the previous 24 hours, other than Russian progress against the cities of Kharkiv and Mykolaiv, in heavy fighting. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to assess the military situation.

The crisis is deteriorating as Moscow’s forces intensify their bombardment of cities in response to what appears to be stronger Ukrainian resistance and heavier Russian losses than anticipated.

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