By VADIM GHIRDA and YURAS KARMANAU
The Associated Press
MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — A Russian airstrike on Wednesday devastated a maternity hospital in the beleaguered port city of Mariupol and injured at least 17 people, Ukrainian officials said, amid growing warnings from the West that the invasion of Moscow is about to take a more brutal and brutal turn. blind turn.
The ground shook for more than a kilometer as the Mariupol complex was hit by a series of explosions that blew out windows and ripped much of a building’s facade. Police and soldiers rushed to the scene to evacuate the victims, carrying a heavily pregnant and bleeding woman on a stretcher.
Another woman groaned as she hugged her child. In the yard, mangled cars burned and a blast crater stretched at least two stories deep.
“Today Russia has committed a huge crime,” said Volodymir Nikulin, a senior regional police official, standing in the wreckage. “It’s 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”. The video shared by Zelenskyy showed cheerfully painted hallways strewn with twisted metal.
“There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and helpless,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be held “to account for his terrible crimes.”
Authorities, meanwhile, announced new ceasefires on Wednesday morning to allow thousands of civilians to escape from bombed towns around Kiev as well as the towns of Mariupol, Enerhodar and Volnovakha in the south, Izyum in the east and Sumy to the northeast.
It was not immediately clear if anyone could leave other towns, but people fled Kyiv’s suburbs, many headed for the city center, as explosions were heard in the capital and air raid sirens sounded repeatedly.
From there, the evacuees planned to board trains bound for unattacked areas of western Ukraine.
Civilians leaving the Kyiv suburb of Irpin were forced to cross the slippery wooden planks of a makeshift bridge as the Ukrainians blew up the concrete span to Kyiv days ago to slow the advance Russian.
With sporadic gunfire echoing behind them, firefighters dragged an elderly man to safety in a wheelbarrow, a child grabbed the hand of a helping soldier and a woman cradled a fluffy cat in his winter coat. They trudged past a wrecked van with the words “Our Ukraine” written in the dust covering its windows.
“We have a short window of time at the moment,” said Yevhen Nyshchuk, a member of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces. “Even though there is a ceasefire right now, there is a high risk of shells falling at any time.”
Previous attempts to establish safe evacuation corridors in recent days have largely failed due to what Ukrainians have described as Russian attacks. But Putin, in a phone call with the German Chancellor, accused Ukrainian nationalist activists of obstructing evacuations.
In Mariupol, local authorities rushed to bury the dead from the last two weeks of fighting in a mass grave. City workers dug a trench about 25 meters long in one of the city’s ancient cemeteries and made the sign of the cross as they pushed bodies wrapped in mats or sacks over the edge .
The strategic city of 430,000 inhabitants on the Sea of Azov has been surrounded by Russian forces for a week.
Across the country, thousands of people are believed to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, since Putin’s forces invaded. The UN estimates that more than 2 million people have fled the country, the largest refugee exodus in Europe since the end of World War II.
The fighting has cut power to the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, sparking fears over spent radioactive fuel which is stored at the site and must be kept cool. But the United Nations nuclear watchdog said it saw “no critical security impact” from the loss of power.
The crisis is likely to deepen as forces in Moscow step up their bombardment of cities in response to what appears to be stronger Ukrainian resistance and heavier-than-expected Russian casualties.
Echoing the CIA director’s remarks a day earlier, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia’s assault would become “more brutal and indiscriminate” as Putin tried to regain momentum.
The British Ministry of Defense said fighting was continuing northwest of Kiev. The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol were heavily shelled and remained surrounded by Russian forces.
Russian forces are placing military equipment in farms and amid residential buildings in the northern city of Chernihiv, the Ukrainian military said. In the south, plainclothes Russians are advancing towards the city of Mykolaiv, a Black Sea shipbuilding center of half a million people, he added.
The Ukrainian army, meanwhile, is building defenses in northern, southern and eastern cities, and forces around Kiev are “holding the line” against the Russian offensive, authorities said.
In Irpin, a town of 60,000 people, police and soldiers helped elderly people leave their homes. One man was hoisted out of a damaged structure on a makeshift stretcher, while another was pushed towards Kiev in a shopping trolley. Fleeing residents said they had been without power and water for the past four days.
Regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said the crisis for civilians was deepening in and around Kyiv, with the situation particularly dire in the suburbs.
“Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kyiv region, preventing the evacuation of people and continuing to shell and shell small communities,” he said.
The situation is even worse in Mariupol, where efforts to evacuate residents and deliver much-needed food, water and medicine failed on Tuesday due to what Ukrainians said continued Russian attacks.
The city took advantage of a lull in bombardment on Wednesday to hastily bury 70 people. Some were soldiers, but most were civilians.
The work was carried out efficiently and without ceremony. No mourners were present, no family to say goodbye.
A woman stood at the gates of the cemetery asking if her mother was among those buried. She was.
Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv, as well as journalists around the world, contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine