Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that a Russian airstrike had destroyed a maternity hospital in the southeastern port city of Mariupol and that children were among those “under the wreckage.”
Russia has not commented on the allegation. It has denied targeting civilians in its invasion of Ukraine.
A senior Ukrainian official, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said authorities were trying to determine the number of people who might have been killed or wounded.
The hospital attack led Zelenskyy to again call on NATO to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine, declaring, “You have power but you seem to be losing humanity.”
A senior U.S. defense official told reporters Wednesday that the United States was in talks with Ukraine and other “allies and partners” to provide Kyiv with defensive weapons that do not involve more air defense capabilities.
The U.S., however, has deployed two Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries in Poland, according to Marine Captain Adam Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command. Miller said in a statement Wednesday the missile batteries, normally stationed in Germany, had been repositioned at Poland’s “invitation.”
“This defensive deployment is being conducted proactively to counter any potential threat to U.S. and Allied forces and NATO territory,” Miller said.
Discussions about jets
One day after the U.S. rejected Poland’s offer to transfer its Russian-made MiG-29 jets to Ramstein Air Base in Germany as a way of helping Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to reporters from Washington along with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, was asked whether it was possible for Ukraine to get the Russian fighter jets.
“We are consulting very closely with Poland and other allies to address the considerable logistical challenges,” Blinken said.
Russia criticized Poland’s offer to send the jets to Germany, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday calling it a “potentially dangerous scenario.”
Poland said Tuesday that its air force was “ready to deploy — immediately and free of charge — all” of its MiG-29 jets to Ramstein, placing them “at the disposal of the government of the United States of America.”
In exchange, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked that the U.S. send Poland aircraft with similar operational capabilities.
Earlier Wednesday, Russia announced plans for new cease-fires to allow civilians to leave several parts of Ukraine besieged by Russian forces, despite Ukrainian officials’ accusations that Moscow had shelled another evacuation route in the southern part of the country.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia had confirmed evacuation routes would lead out of Sumy, Mariupol, Enerhodar, Volnovakha, Izyum and several towns near the capital, Kyiv. Vereshchuk said 5,000 people were able to evacuate Sumy on Tuesday.
But in Mariupol, where a Russian siege has left the southeastern port city with dwindling supplies of electricity, heat, food and water, efforts to get people out Tuesday failed, with Vereshchuk saying Russian forces had fired on a humanitarian cargo convoy.
“The situation in Mariupol is apocalyptic,” Red Cross spokesperson Ewan Watson said.
Blinken also said Wednesday that Russia’s proposals to create humanitarian corridors from Ukraine to Russia were “absurd” as he called for Moscow to allow civilians in Ukraine to leave safely.
“It’s offensive to suggest the Ukrainian people should seek refuge from the very government that has demonstrated such disregard for their lives,” Blinken said.
In other developments Wednesday, the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe nearly 36 years ago, lost power after its power grid source was damaged, according to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Kuleba tweeted that the plant was relying on reserve diesel generators with the capacity to power it for 48 hours, after which the cooling of spent nuclear fuel would halt, raising the possibility of “imminent” radiation leaks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “barbaric war puts entire Europe in danger. He must stop it immediately,” tweeted Kuleba, who also called on the global community to demand that Russia impose a cease-fire to allow for repairs.
Kremlin spokesman Peskov told reporters Wednesday that the United States was waging an “economic war on Russia.” His comments came a day after U.S. President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil and other energy imports.
The United Nations’ refugee agency said Wednesday that more than 2.2 million people had fled Ukraine. More than half have gone to Poland.
Kuleba and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled to meet Thursday in Turkey to discuss the situation. Kuleba said he would propose a direct meeting between Zelenskyy and Putin.
Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb and National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.