Ukraine says Russians shot fleeing civilians near Kyiv as attacks on cities continue

Seven killed, including one child, in Russian ‘war crime’ near capital, Ukraine says; humanitarian catastrophe unfolds in Mariupol as residents struggle to bury dead in mass graves

Ukrainian soldiers cross an improvised path under a destroyed bridge in Irpin, one outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 12, 2022. (AP/Felipe Dana)
Ukrainian soldiers cross an improvised path under a destroyed bridge in Irpin, one outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 12, 2022. (AP/Felipe Dana)

Russian troops shot at a group of women and children fleeing a village near Kyiv, killing seven, including a child, Ukraine’s military intelligence service said on Saturday, as civilian casualties mounted in Russia’s onslaught against Ukrainian cities.

“During an attempt to evacuate from the village of Peremoga… along an agreed ‘green’ corridor, the occupiers opened fire on a column of civilians, consisting exclusively of women and children. The result of this brutal act was seven dead. One of them is a child,” Defense Intelligence of Ukraine said on Facebook.

It said the incident happened on Friday and did not provide additional details about the casualties, including how many people were injured.

Peremoga, which means victory in Ukrainian, is a small village around 36 kilometers (22 miles) from Kyiv’s northeastern suburbs, where Russian tanks are advancing toward the capital.

The military intelligence service said Russian troops forced the group of evacuees to return to their village after the attack.

“At present, it is almost impossible to establish contact with them, as well as provide humanitarian and medical assistance,” the statement said.

It accused Russia of committing a war crime by deliberately targeting innocent civilians.

Smoke from shelling behind a cemetery in Vasylkiv, southwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 12, 2022. (AP/Vadim Ghirda)

In addition to the violence around Kyiv, Russia continued its bombardment of other major Ukrainian cities on Saturday.

Russian forces pounded the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, shelling its downtown as residents hid in an iconic mosque and elsewhere to avoid the explosions.

Mariupol has endured some of Ukraine’s worst punishment since Russia invaded. Unceasing barrages have thwarted repeated attempts to bring food, water and medicine into the city of 430,000 and to evacuate its trapped civilians.

More than 1,500 people have died in Mariupol during the siege, according to the mayor’s office, and the shelling has interrupted efforts to bury the dead in mass graves.

The Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey said 86 Turkish nationals, including 34 children, were among the people who had sought safety in Mariupol’s mosque of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roksolana, which was modeled on one of the most famous and largest mosques in Istanbul.

Before Mariupol became a target of the biggest land conflict in Europe since World War II, the city promoted the white-walled building and its towering minaret as a scenic attraction.

A fire burns in an apartment building after the shelling of a residential district in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 11, 2022. (AP/Evgeniy Maloletka)

With Mariupol’s electricity, gas and water supplies knocked out, aid workers and Ukrainian authorities described an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. Aid group Doctors Without Borders said Mariupol residents are dying from a lack of medication and are draining heating pipes for drinking water.

A Ukrainian official said Russian soldiers pillaged a humanitarian convoy that was trying to reach Mariupol and blocked another.

Russian forces have hit at least two dozen hospitals and medical facilities, according to the World Health Organization.

Ukraine’s military said Russian forces captured Mariupol’s eastern outskirts, tightening their siege of the strategic port. Taking Mariupol and other ports on the Azov Sea could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

“They are bombing [Mariupol] 24 hours a day, launching missiles. It is hatred. They kill children,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a video address.

An Associated Press journalist in Mariupol witnessed tanks fire on a nine-story apartment building and was with a group of hospital workers who came under sniper fire on Friday. A worker shot in the hip survived, but conditions in the hospital were deteriorating: electricity was reserved for operating tables, and people with nowhere else to go lined the hallways.

Among them was Anastasiya Erashova, who wept and trembled as she held a sleeping child. Shelling had just killed her other child as well as her brother’s child, Erashova said, her scalp crusted with blood.

“We came to my brother’s [place], all of us together. The women and children went underground, and then some mortar struck that building,” she said. “We were trapped underground, and two children died. No one was able to save them.”

Anastasia Erashova cries as she hugs her child in a corridor of a hospital in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

In Irpin, a suburb about 12 miles (20 kilometers) northwest of central Kyiv, bodies lay out in the open Saturday on streets and in a park.

“When I woke up in the morning, everything was covered in smoke, everything was dark. We don’t know who is shooting and where,” resident Serhy Protsenko said as he walked through his neighborhood. Explosions sounded in the distance. “We don’t have any radio or information.”

Some Irpin residents sheltered in a pitch-dark basement, unsure where they could go or how they would get food if they left. Others toted luggage across planks across a waterway where a bridge had been damaged.

French and German leaders spoke Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a failed attempt to reach a cease-fire. According to the Kremlin, Putin laid out terms for ending the war, including Ukraine’s demilitarization and its ceding of territory, among other demands.

Zelensky encouraged his people to keep up their resistance, which many analysts said has prevented the rapid military victory the Kremlin likely expected.

“The fact that the whole Ukrainian people resist these invaders has already gone down in history, but we do not have the right to let up our defense, no matter how difficult it may be,” he said.

Later Saturday, Zelensky reported that 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had died since the Russian invasion began February 24.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to reporters in Kyiv, March 12, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)

Zelensky again deplored NATO’s refusal to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine and said Ukraine has sought ways to procure air defense assets, though he didn’t elaborate. US President Joe Biden announced another $200 million in aid to Ukraine, with an additional $13 billion included in a bill that has passed the House and should pass the Senate within days.

Zelensky also accused Russia of employing “a new stage of terror” with the alleged kidnapping the mayor of Melitopol, a city 192 kilometers (119 miles) west of Mariupol.

In multiple areas around Kyiv, artillery barrages sent residents scurrying for shelter as air raid sirens wailed. Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russian forces that had been massed north of Kyiv edged to within 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the city center and spread out, likely to support an attempted encirclement.

Ukraine’s military and volunteer forces have been preparing for an all-out assault. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Thursday that about 2 million people, half the metropolitan area’s inhabitants, had left and that “every street, every house… is being fortified.”

Zelensky said Saturday that Russia would need to carpet-bomb Kyiv and kill its residents to take the city.

“They will come here only if they kill us all,” he said. “If that is their goal, let them come.”

A Ukrainian soldier in Mariupol, Ukraine, Saturday, March 12, 2022. (AP/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Zelensky told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday that he would be open to meeting Putin in Jerusalem to discuss an end to the war, but that there would first have to be a ceasefire.

The Russian invaders appear to have struggled far more than expected against determined Ukrainian fighters. Still, Russia’s stronger military threatens to grind down Ukraine’s forces, despite an ongoing flow of weapons and other assistance from the West for Ukraine’s westward-looking, democratically elected government.

A senior Russian diplomat warned Saturday that Russia could attack foreign shipments of military equipment to Ukraine.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow has warned the United States “that pumping weapons from a number of countries it orchestrates isn’t just a dangerous move — it’s an action that makes those convoys legitimate targets.”

Thousands of soldiers on both sides are believed dead, along with many civilians, including at least 79 Ukrainian children, its government said.

At least 2.5 million people have fled the country, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

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