Ukraine accused Russia on Wednesday of bombing a childrens’ hospital in the besieged port of Mariupol during a supposed ceasefire to enable some of the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the city to escape.
By Natalia Zinets
LVIV, Ukraine – Ukraine accused Russia on Wednesday of bombing a childrens’ hospital in the besieged port of Mariupol during a supposed ceasefire to enable some of the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the city to escape.
Russia, which denies targeting civilians, had said it would hold fire to let civilians flee Mariupol and other besieged cities on Wednesday. But the city council said the hospital had been hit more than once.
“The Russian occupying forces have dropped several bombs on the children’s hospital. The destruction is colossal,” it said in an online post, adding that it did not yet know any casualty figures. The report could not immediately be verified.
Earlier Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had broken the ceasefire around the southern port, which lies between Russian-backed separatist areas of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, annexed by Moscow from Ukraine in 2014.
“Russia continues holding hostage over 400,000 people in Mariupol, blocks humanitarian aid and evacuation. Indiscriminate shelling continues,” he wrote on Twitter. “Almost 3,000 newborn babies lack medicine and food.”
Local officials in other cities said some civilians had left on Wednesday through safe corridors, including out of Sumy in eastern Ukraine and Enerhodar in the south.
However, Russian forces were preventing a convoy of 50 buses from evacuating civilians from the town of Bucha outside Kyiv, local authorities said in an online post, adding that talks continued to allow the convoy to leave.
Both sides have accused each other of violating ceasefires that would allow to evacuate Mariupol, which Russian forces have kept under siege for more than a week.
On Tuesday, the Red Cross called conditions inside the city “apocalyptic”, with residents sheltering underground from relentless bombardment, with no access to food, water, power or heat.
More than two million people have fled Ukraine since President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion nearly two weeks ago. Moscow calls its action a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbour and dislodge leaders it calls “neo-Nazis.”
Kyiv and its Western allies say Russia is inventing pretexts to justify an unprovoked war against a democratic country of 44 million people, including by accusing Ukraine of having tried to develop biological or nuclear weapons.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin said Washington must explain “Ukrainian biological weapons labs”, a suggestion Washington has already dismissed as “absurd propaganda”.
Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator said it was concerned for safety at Chernobyl, mothballed site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, where it said a power cut caused by fighting meant spent nuclear fuel could not be cooled.
Foreign minister Kuleba said reserve diesel generators had a 48-hour capacity. “After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent,” he said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said the heat generated by the spent fuel and the volume of cooling water were such that it was “sufficient for effective heat removal without need for electrical supply”.
The war has swiftly cast Russia into economic isolation as well as drawing almost universal international condemnation.
The United States said on Tuesday it was banning imports of Russian oil, a major policy change after energy was previously exempted from sanctions, while Western companies kept pulling out from the Russian market.
McDonalds said on Tuesday it was shutting its nearly 850 restaurants in Russia. Its first, which drew huge queues to Moscow’s Pushkin Square when it opened in 1990, had been an emblem of the end of the Cold War.
Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and others made similar announcements. Heineken, the world’s second-largest brewer, stopped production and sales of its Heineken brand lager in Russia and said it was assessing options for its operations there.
Russia’s ruling United Russia party said it proposed seizing the assets of foreign companies that leave.
“We will take tough retaliatory measures, acting in accordance with the laws of war,” Andrei Turchak, secretary of the party’s council, wrote on its website.
Banishing Russia, the world’s top exporter of combined oil and gas, from markets is sending shockwaves through the global economy at a time when inflation in the developed world is already at levels not seen since the 1980s. Retail fuel pump prices have surged to records.
Both Ukraine and Russia are also huge exporters of food and metals. Together they account for nearly a third of the global grain trade, which even dwarfs Russia’s role in energy. Prices of food staples have soared worldwide, punishing far-flung countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Ukraine said on Wednesday it was halting key agricultural exports for the rest of the year. Russia too said it needed to maintain domestic supplies of grain. In the latest sign of what was rapidly becoming a global food crisis, Indonesia said it would curb sales of palm oil after global prices surged.
Trade in nickel, critical in electric vehicle production, was called off on Tuesday in London after the price more than doubled.
Supply shortages caused by the war forced Volkswagen to halt new orders for plug-in hybrid vehicles in Germany from Wednesday.
High oil prices prompted by Russia’s invasion could cut a full percentage point off the growth of big developing economies such as China, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, a World Bank official said.
Western countries believe Moscow had aimed to quickly topple the Kyiv government in a lightning strike, and is being forced to adjust after underestimating Ukrainian resistance. Russia has taken substantial territory in the south but has yet to capture any major cities in northern or eastern Ukraine, with an assault force stalled on a highway north of Kyiv.
Russia is desperate for some kind of victory in cities like Mariupol and Kyiv, before it negotiates, Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
“Therefore, our task is to withstand for the next 7-10 days,” he said.