Ukraine’s government has accused Russia of bombing a maternity and children’s hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea coast. The attack occurred during the ceasefire agreed by Kiev and Moscow so that thousands of people trapped in the city, in a critical situation, could leave in humanitarian corridors. President Volodymyr Zelensky has blamed Moscow for the “atrocity”. “There are children, people under the rubble”, he has said on his social networks. “How long will the world be complicit in ignoring terror?” he added. There are at least 17 people injured, members of the hospital staff, according to local authorities. The Kremlin has ensured that Russian forces do not fire on civilian targets.
As Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine approaches two weeks, and as Ukrainian forces and civil society resist the onslaught, attacks on residential areas have become more vicious and the number of civilian casualties is on the rise. The United Nations has already counted 516 dead civilians and 908 wounded throughout the country since the Russian president ordered the invasion. The agency warns, however, that the real figure is even higher.
Attacks on civilian infrastructure and residential areas have increased. The bombing hardly gives a truce or Kharkov, in the east, the second most populous city in the country; nor to Chernihiv, near the border with Belarus; nor to Mariupol. The World Health Organization (WHO) has verified 18 attacks in Ukraine against health facilities, health workers and ambulances that have killed ten people and injured 16. The Ukrainian ombudsman, Liudmila Denisova, assures that 62 children have died in 14 days of war.
Mariupol. Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity. pic.twitter.com/FoaNdbKH5k
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 9, 2022
Images released by the Ukrainian authorities show a building severely damaged by an attack and a large bomb crater in the courtyard, as well as burned or burned cars and downed trees. The attack, according to the images, broke the windows of the maternity hospital and scattered shrapnel. Other videos show the damage to other buildings in the center of Mariupol, such as the City Hall or the State Technical University.
In the port city – a strategic point that would allow Russia to create a corridor between the Crimean peninsula, illegally annexed in 2014, and Donbas – the situation is “apocalyptic”, the Red Cross has denounced. There is no drinking water supply, there is hardly any food left in looted shops or medicine, there is no heating or electricity and telecommunications networks do not work properly and civilians remain huddled in shelters to shelter from the relentless bombardment. Almost 3,000 newborns will soon run out of medicine and food in Mariupol, according to Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The little information that comes from within the city, surrounded by Russian forces, confirms that its almost half a million inhabitants are already experiencing a human tragedy. Some 200,000 people are trying to flee the city, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
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Yulia, a 50-year-old accountant who managed to flee Mariupol on Monday on foot, told EL PAÍS that the city’s stores no longer have supplies. The inhabitants have begun to cook with the snow they collect from the ground in improvised fires in parks and gardens. Each neighbor brings what little they have left at home to be able to cook it and share it with the rest. “The war has taught me that in case of need you would drink even the water from the puddles,” confesses this Ukrainian citizen, reports Margaret Yakovenko.
Ruins of destroyed buildings and corpses pile up in the center of this port and metallurgical production town in southeastern Ukraine. Some cars have been abandoned in the middle of the road with their occupants killed by projectiles inside. The authorities are burying the bodies in mass graves because it is impossible to do otherwise because of the continuous bombing. President Zelenski said on Monday that a six-year-old girl from Mariupol had died of dehydration for not having gotten water..
Failed Humanitarian Corridors
Moscow and Kiev had renewed this Wednesday, for the fifth consecutive day, the commitment to silence the weapons so that civilians could escape from five cities under fire from the fighting – including Mariupol – and from several towns near Kiev, the capital. In total, six humanitarian corridors were scheduled to be in force at 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. local time. Only about 5,000 civilians have been able to escape from Sumi, in the northeast of the country, where a bomb killed 22 people, according to the Ukrainian authorities. From the town of Enerhodar, where the Zaporiya nuclear power plant is located, occupied by Russian forces, who are holding their employees, a refugee convoy, made up mostly of women and children, has managed to leave the city, according to the Ukrainian authorities. .
The Bucha City Council, northwest of Kiev, assured on its Facebook page that the Russian military was preventing the passage of 50 buses with civilians. In Izium, in the Kharkov region, in eastern Ukraine, the departure of the inhabitants was delayed by Russian bombing, its governor, Oleh Synehoubov, denounced in a message posted on Telegram.
One in four Ukrainians will need help
The threat of extreme deprivation does not only hang over Mariupol. The spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Spain (UNHCR), María Jesús Vega, warns that, if the escalation continues, up to 12 million Ukrainians will soon need humanitarian aid (food, water, basic supplies and shelter) to survive. This calculation encompasses practically a quarter of a population of just over 44 million people. This figure refers to people who will remain in Ukraine, not the four to five million refugees – more than 2.2 million Ukrainians have already left the country – that UNHCR estimates will flee the Russian invasion of the former Soviet republic. Vega points out, according to Trinity Deiros.
“Already before this war, three million Ukrainians needed humanitarian assistance to survive,” stresses the UNHCR spokeswoman. In addition to this situation, which was already urgent before, caused by the eight-year conflict in the Donbas region, this new war and enormous levels of destruction are now added. “The impact of this war on human lives, on refugees, on internally displaced persons, and on destruction will undoubtedly be brutal,” emphasizes Vega.
Humanitarian corridors are used to allow civilians a safe route to escape from war. According to International Humanitarian Law, this is not a concession by the contenders, but rather a legal obligation, established in the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 and its additional protocols of 1977, which oblige the parties to protect civilians in wartime, facilitate their safe withdrawal and allow the free passage of food, medical supplies and other essential goods.
These theoretically safe escape routes consist of a temporary cessation of fighting to allow the civilian population to flee along previously agreed routes. The term was first evoked in the 1990s, during the Bosnian war in the former Yugoslavia. The United Nations General Assembly explicitly mentioned these corridors for the first time in 1990.
However, international organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have warned of the risk that these civilian exit corridors become a pretext to redouble attacks, once the humanitarian corridors are closed, and to clean up the image of those who they commit war crimes, on the pretext that civilians have been able to flee if they so wished.
In Ukraine, many people also find it difficult to flee: elderly, disabled or simply people without means who have nowhere to go. One in four Ukrainians is over 60 years old, according to the humanitarian organization HelpAge, citing official sources in the country. Many of them have mobility problems, as well as a greater resistance to leaving their lives behind.
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