Airstrike hits Ukraine maternity hospital, power cut at Chernobyl plant

(NewsNation) — A Russian strike devastated a Ukrainian maternity hospital and Chernobyl was disconnected from the country’s power grid Wednesday amid growing warnings from the West that Moscow’s invasion is about to take a more brutal and indiscriminate turn.

Ukrainian officials said a Russian airstrike hit a children’s hospital and maternity facility in the besieged port city of Mariupol and wounded at least 17 people.

The strike, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called an “atrocity,” took place despite an agreed-upon cease-fire to enable thousands of civilians trapped in the city to escape.

The ground shook more than a mile away when the Mariupol complex was hit by a series of blasts that blew out windows and ripped away much of the front of one building. Police and soldiers rushed to the scene to evacuate victims, carrying out a heavily pregnant and bleeding woman on a stretcher.

“Today Russia committed a huge crime,” said Volodymir Nikulin, a top regional police official, standing in the ruins. “It is a war crime without any justification.”

Zelenskyy tweeted, “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.”

Also Wednesday, Russian forces disconnected the Chernobyl nuclear power plant from the country’s power grid, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company Energoatom said.

Retired Gen. Richard Newton believes these types of attacks could only be the beginning.

“This is in [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] playbook,” Newton said Wednesday on “NewsNation Prime.” “If he gets to a point where he is backed into a corner where he has no options, he will use the next chapter (of) that playbook.”

Newton said that could include weapons of mass destruction.

Radioactive substances could be released from the plant because it cannot cool spent nuclear fuel after its power connection was severed, Energoatom said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia must urgently observe a temporary cease-fire to allow repairs on a power line to the plant, saying radiation could be leaked if an electricity outage continues.

“Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power the Chernobyl NPP. After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent,” he said on Twitter.

Nearly two weeks into the invasion, Russian troops have advanced deep along Ukraine’s coastline. The city of Mariupol, which sits on the Azov Sea, has been surrounded by Russian soldiers for days, and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the encircled city of 430,000.

It’s impossible to get an accurate count of the death toll, but the United Nations reports at least 1,207 civilians have died.

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

Western countries are still attempting to intervene indirectly and avoid anything that could be seen as an act of war. Those efforts were complicated by a Polish plan to give Ukraine MiG-29 fighter jets by giving them to the U.S. first.

It’s an idea the Pentagon termed as not “a tenable one” over concerns it could be construed as direct involvement in the war. Another idea being considered is the jets being flown to a neutral country where Ukrainian pilots could pick them up.

The MiG-29 is not a new plane, and some doubt it would turn the tide for Ukraine. However, Ukrainian pilots are versed in how to fly it.

Dismissing an idea this week does not rule it out for the next. The United States crossed a sanction line President Joe Biden had previously ruled out when he announced America would no longer import oil from Russia.

The move sent America’s average gas price to a record $4.17 per gallon.

It’s an attempt to further attack Russia’s economy to force Putin to comply with Western demands, although even Biden has said the approach would take time to work.

Richard Goldberg, former White House National Security Councilmember, said on “NewsNation Prime” the U.S. may have had better results if it hit Putin hard from the start rather than rolling out a series of escalating sanctions.

Zelenskyy said Wednesday that efforts are underway to evacuate some 18,000 people from the capital Kyiv and embattled towns near it.

He said the efforts are part of broader evacuation attempts by multiple humanitarian corridors within Ukraine and warned Russian forces against violating cease-fire promises.

Ukrainian authorities have agreed to a 12-hour ceasefire with Russia on Wednesday along several evacuation routes for civilians in besieged or occupied cities, though it is unclear whether Russian forces will respect it.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian authorities confirmed the cease-fire, which runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., along the evacuation corridors to Ukrainian counterparts and the Red Cross.

Humanitarian corridors from Kiev, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkov and Mariupol would be opened.

All the corridors lead to sites elsewhere in Ukraine that are currently held by the Ukrainian government.

Representatives with Ukraine’s Red Cross are trying to deliver first aid to those who need it the most, but resources are scarce.

“There is no heating, electricity, water, natural gas … in other words, there is nothing. No household commodities. The water is collected from the roofs after the rain,” said Aleksey Berntsev, head of Red Cross of Mariupol.

People are sheltered in underground basements, anxiously waiting for news of evacuation efforts as they struggle to survive in a city where bodies have been left uncollected on the streets.

Berentsev said that apart from delivering aid, giving local residents information is one of the most important tasks they are undertaking.

“Sometimes, information is more important for the people than food,” he says.

Power cuts mean that many residents have lost internet access and now rely on their car radios for information, picking up news from stations broadcast from areas controlled by Russian or Russian-backed separatist forces.

Zelenskyy issued an appeal, unusually in Russian, to urge Russian soldiers to leave: “Our resistance for almost two weeks has shown you that we will not surrender because this is our home. It is our families and children. We will fight until we can win back our land,” he said. “You can still save yourselves if you just go home.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was due to meet Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Turkey on Thursday.

He said in a statement Ukraine wanted a ceasefire, liberation of its territories, and to resolve all humanitarian issues, but he added: “Frankly … my expectations of the talks are low.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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