Ukrainian officials have accused the Russian government of bombing a children’s hospital in the city of Mariupol along the southern coast of the besieged country.
Russia recently agreed not to target civilians fleeing the war in Ukraine, but the latest attack shows that residents are still at risk.
Praying for Peace
The Russian army has targeted several humanitarian corridors, routes designed to help civilians escape the fighting, throughout Ukraine over the last several days. The Kremlin recently agreed to a temporary 12-hour cease fire to let residents safely get out of the country.
But the city council of Mariupol said the Russians broke that agreement when they bombed the city’s children’s hospital and several other civilian targets. The building was hit several times in an airstrike, according to officials.
“The destruction is colossal,” the council said in an online post.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the attack an “atrocity”.
“Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage,” he said on Twitter. Zelenskiy urged NATO leaders to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, but such a measure would likely only escalate the war as more NATO countries get involved.
“Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity,” the president said on Twitter.
When asked for comment, Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, “Russian forces do not fire on civilian targets.”
Video posted by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry shows large holes in the sides of the crumbling building where windows used to be with piles of rubble littering the streets.
Russian forces have several Ukrainian cities surrounded, which has made it difficult to evacuate civilians.
“Russia continues holding hostage over 400,000 people in Mariupol, blocks humanitarian aid and evacuation. Indiscriminate shelling continues,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter. “Almost 3,000 newborn babies lack medicine and food.”
The international community swiftly condemned the attack.
The United Nations said it would follow up “urgently” on the “shocking reports,” and that healthcare facilities hospitals and healthcare workers should not “ever, ever be a target.”
The White House called the attack “barbaric” in an official briefing.
However, the U.S. and its allies remain wary of imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
“The reality is that setting up a no-fly zone would lead to a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia. And that is not what we are looking at,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Chaos on the Ground
The bomb decimated the front section of the building. First responders and soldiers rushed to the scene to evacuate victims. One team was seen carrying out a heavily pregnant and bleeding woman on a stretcher. Another woman cradled her wailing child as she exited the building. Burning cars and mangled debris filled the parking lot. The blast left a crater in the hospital two floors deep.
“Today Russia committed a huge crime,” said Volodymyr Nikulin, a top regional police official, standing in the wreckage. “It is a war crime without any justification.”
At least 17 people were wounded, including women in labor, said regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko.
The World Health Organization noted that healthcare facilities are increasingly being targeted in the war with Russia.
WHO head Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency has “verified 18 attacks” on healthcare facilities, workers, and ambulances with 10 deaths and 16 injuries.
Ukrainian Deputy Mayor Sergiy Orlov said residents have started digging mass graves to bury the some 1,200 people that have died since the fighting began, while predicting that the true death toll is likely “three to four times more.”
“Mariupol is under continuous shelling … each hour, each minute, each second,” Orlov told reporters, saying there was “no cease-fire” despite Russia promising a safe corridor for those wanting to exit.
“This district does not exist anymore. There are no buildings without damage,” he said.