Russia Ukraine war: Ukrainians evacuate Kyiv suburbs amid deepening crisis

A Russian attack severely damaged a maternity hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukraine said Wednesday, and citizens trying to escape shelling on the outskirts of Kyiv streamed toward the capital amid warnings from the West that Moscow’s invasion is about to take a more brutal and indiscriminate turn.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that there were “people, children under the wreckage” of the hospital and called the strike an “atrocity.” Authorities said they were trying to establish how many people had been killed or wounded.

Video shared by Zelenskyy showed cheerfully painted hallways strewn with twisted metal and room after room with blown-out windows. Floors were covered in wreckage.

Outside, mangled cars burned, in a video provided by the Mariupol city council, with heavy damage to at least three two-story buildings. Much of the front of one building had been ripped away. The council said the damage was “colossal.”

“There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and defenseless,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be held “to account for his terrible crimes.”

The strike on the hospital comes as civilians trying to escape Russian shelling on the outskirts of Kyiv streamed toward the capital, some of them making their way across the slippery wooden planks of a makeshift bridge, in a renewed effort to evacuate Ukraine’s besieged cities.

The exodus toward the capital came amid warnings from Western officials that Moscow’s invasion may be about to take a more brutal and indiscriminate turn.

Some of the civilians came from the town of Irpin, in the northeast suburbs of Kyiv, and had to use the makeshift bridge after the Ukrainians blew up the concrete span connecting the cities to slow the Russian advance.

With sporadic gunfire echoing behind them, firefighters dragged an elderly man to safety in a wheelbarrow, a child gripped the hand of a helping soldier, and a woman inched her way along cradling a fluffy cat inside her winter coat. On the other side, they trudged past a crashed van with the words “Our Ukraine” written in the dust coating its windows.

“We have a short window of time at the moment,” said Yevhen Nyshchuk, a member of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces. “Even if there is a ceasefire right now, there is a high risk of shells falling at any moment.”

Authorities announced the new cease-fire Wednesday morning to allow thousands of civilians to escape from towns around Kyiv as well as the southern cities of Mariupol, Enerhodar and Volnovakha, Izyum in the east and Sumy in the northeast. Previous attempts to establish safe evacuation corridors largely failed because of Russian attacks.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether anyone was able to leave other cities, but people streamed out of Kyiv’s suburbs, even as explosions were heard in the capital and air raid sirens sounded repeatedly.

In the besieged city of Mariupol, local authorities hurried to bury the dead in a mass grave. City workers dug a trench some 25 metres long at one of the city’s old cemeteries and made a sign of the cross as they pushed bodies wrapped in carpets or bags over the edge.

Thousands of people are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, in two weeks of fighting since Russian President Vladimir 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.

The fighting cut power to the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, raising safety concerns about the spent fuel that is stored at the site and must be kept cool. But the UN nuclear watchdog agency said it saw “no critical impact on safety” from the loss of power.

The crisis in Ukraine is likely to get worse as Russian forces step up their bombardment of cities in response to stronger than expected resistance. Russian losses have been “far in excess” of what Putin and his generals expected, CIA Director William Burns said on Tuesday.

An intensified push by Russian forces could mean “an ugly next few weeks,” Burns told a congressional committee, warning that Putin is likely to “grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties.”

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday that fighting continued northwest of Kyiv. The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol were being heavily shelled and remained encircled by Russian forces.

The Ukrainian military, meanwhile, is building up defenses in cities in the north, south and east, and forces around Kyiv are “holding the line” against the Russian offensive, authorities said.

A series of air raid alerts on Wednesday morning urged residents of Kyiv to go to bomb shelters amid fears of incoming missiles. Explosions were later heard.

Regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said the crisis for civilians is deepening in and around Kyiv, with the situation particularly dire in the suburbs.

“Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kyiv region, frustrating the evacuation of people and continuing shelling and bombing small communities,” he said.

The situation is even worse in Mariupol, a strategic city of 430,000 people on the Sea of Azov that has been encircled by Russian forces for the past week.

Efforts to evacuate residents and deliver badly needed food, water and medicine failed Tuesday because of what the Ukrainians said were continued Russian attacks.

The city took advantage of a lull in the shelling Wednesday to hurriedly bury 70 people. Some were soldiers, but most were civilians.

The work was conducted efficiently and without ceremony. No mourners were present, no families to say their goodbyes.

One woman stood at the gates of the cemetery to ask whether her mother was among those being buried. She was.

Chemical weapons concern

Western officials warned of their “serious concern” that Vladimir Putin could use chemical weapons in Ukraine to commit further atrocities during the invasion.

Their assessment was that an “utterly horrific” attack on the capital of Kyiv could come as Russian forces overcome the logistical issues suspected of delaying their attacks.

One Western official said: “I think we’ve got good reason to be concerned about possible use of non-conventional weapons, partly because of what we’ve seen has happened in other theatres.

“As I’ve mentioned before, for example, what we’ve seen in Syria, partly because we’ve seen a bit of setting the scene for that in the false flag claims that are coming out, and other indications as well.

“So it’s a serious concern for us.”

Russia used thermobaric weapon system

Britain said on Wednesday the Russian Ministry of Defence had confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine, which uses thermobaric rockets.

“The Russian MoD has confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine,” it said on Twitter. “The TOS-1A uses thermobaric rockets, creating incendiary and blast effects.”

'More brutal and indiscriminate'

Britain’s defense minister says Russia’s military assault on Ukraine will get “more brutal and more indiscriminate” as President Vladimir Putin tries to regain momentum against fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told British lawmakers that Russia was seeking to use mercenaries from the Wagner Group in Ukraine, calling that a sign of “desperation.”

The Wagner Group, owned by a confidant of Putin, has been accused by Western governments and UN experts of human rights abuses in Africa and involvement in the conflict in Libya.

Wallace said the group was “responsible for all sorts of atrocities in Africa and the Middle East. And the fact that Russia is now trying to encourage them to take part in Ukraine, I think, is a telling sign.”

Western intelligence officials are concerned that Russia plans to use violence to terrorise the population and deter protests in areas of Ukraine under its control. A European official told the AP that Russia was considering “aggressive measures” including “violent crowd control, repressive detention of protest organizers” and even public executions.

A post shared by Olena Zelenska (@olenazelenska_official)

China hits out at Nato

China has accused Nato of building tension between Ukraine and Russia to “breaking point” before the latter’s eventual invasion in late February.

Speaking at a daily news briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged the West against continuing its brutal sanctions against Russia.

Zhao claimed “wielding the stick of sanctions at every turn will never bring peace and security, but cause serious difficulties to the economies and livelihoods of the countries concerned”.

China this week announced its relationship with Russia was “rock solid” despite ongoing attacks against Ukraine civilians in what has been a brutal culmination of over eight years’ conflict over territory.

Zhao said China and Russia will “continue to carry out normal trade cooperation, including oil and gas trade, in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit”.

On the same day, China also announced it would send over ¥5 million ($1.15m) in humanitarian aid to Ukraine civilians.

Conscript soldiers sent to war

Russia has admitted that conscript soldiers have been sent into Ukraine and that some have been captured by Ukrainian troops.

The admission comes after President Vladimir Putin vowed that conscripts would not be deployed and that Russian forces would rely on professional troops.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that “unfortunately there have been detected several instances of the presence of conscript-service military personnel” with units in Ukraine but that “almost all” of them had been recalled to Russia.

He added that some conscripts were taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces while serving in a logistics unit and efforts are under way to free them. Konashenkov didn’t specify how many conscripts had served in Ukraine or how many were captured.

Attacks on health facilites, workers

The World Health Organization says it has documented 18 attacks on health facilities, workers and ambulances since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN health agency has delivered 81 metric tons of supplies to Ukraine and is now establishing a pipeline to send further equipment. To date, Tedros said WHO had sent enough surgical supplies to treat 150 trauma patients and other supplies for a range of health conditions to treat 45,000 people.

Dr Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, acknowledged that sending medical supplies to Ukraine was unlikely to make a big difference.

“This is putting bandages on mortal wounds right now,” he said.

Germany not keen on planes for Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is indicating that he doesn’t favour supplying old MiG fighter jets to Ukraine.

Poland late Tuesday offered to give the US 28 MiG-29 fighter planes for Ukraine’s use. US officials said the proposal was “untenable,” but they would continue to consult with Poland and other Nato allies.

Scholz was asked on Wednesday whether Germany would be prepared to allow such a delivery, and whether he feared being drawn into the conflict by a jet delivery via the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany – which Poland had proposed.

Scholz noted that Germany has given Ukraine financial and humanitarian aid, as well as some weapons. He added: “otherwise, we must consider very carefully what we do in concrete terms, and that most certainly doesn’t include fighter planes”.

Mass graves in Mariupol

City authorities in the besieged southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol are burying their dead in a mass grave.

With the city under steady bombardment, officials had been waiting for a chance to allow individual burials to resume. But with morgues overflowing, and many corpses uncollected at home, they decided they had to take action.

A deep trench some 25 metres long has been opened in one of the city’s old cemeteries in the heart of the city. Social workers brought 30 bodies wrapped in carpets or bags Wednesday, and 40 were brought Tuesday.

The dead include civilian victims of shelling on the city as well as some soldiers. Workers with the municipal social services have also been collecting bodies from homes, including some civilians who died of disease or natural causes.

No mourners were present, no families said their goodbyes.

Chernobyl power cut

The International Atomic Energy Agency says it sees “no critical impact on safety” from the power cut at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine.

The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog said Wednesday that Ukraine had informed it of the loss of electricity and that the development violates a “key safety pillar on ensuring uninterrupted power supply.” But it tweeted that “in this case IAEA sees no critical impact on safety.”

The IAEA said that there could be “effective heat removal without need for electrical supply” from spent nuclear fuel at the site.

– with, Telegraph UK

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