Russians keep pressure on Mariupol; massive convoy breaks up

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MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces continued their bombardment of the port city of Mariupol on Thursday, as satellite photos showed a massive convoy that had been bogged down outside the Ukrainian capital split up and spread out in towns and f

MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces continued their bombardment of the port city of Mariupol on Thursday, as satellite photos showed a massive convoy that had been bogged down outside the Ukrainian capital broke up and deployed in towns and forests near Kiev, with artillery pieces placed in firing positions.

International condemnation intensified following an airstrike in Mariupol the previous day that killed three people in a maternity hospital. Western and Ukrainian officials called the attack a war crime. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s refusal to allow evacuations from the port city amounted to “outright terror”.

Meanwhile, the highest-level talks held since the start of the invasion two weeks ago have yielded no progress as the number of refugees fleeing the country exceeded 2.3 millionand Kiev braced for an assault, its mayor boasting that the capital had become virtually a fortress protected by armed civilians.

Satellite images from Maxar Technologies showed a 40-mile (64 kilometer) convoy of vehicles, tanks and artillery broke up and redeployed, the company said. Armored units were seen in towns near Antonov Airport north of the city. Some of the vehicles moved through the forests, Maxar reported, with howitzers towed nearby in position to open fire.

The convoy had massed outside the town early last week, but its advance appeared to have stalled amid reports of food and fuel shortages. US officials said Ukrainian troops also targeted the convoy with anti-tank missiles.

A US defense official speaking on condition of anonymity said some vehicles had been seen leaving the road in the treeline in recent days, but the official could not confirm whether the convoy had dispersed .

In Mariupol, a southern seaport of 430,000 people, the situation grew increasingly dire as civilians trapped inside the city searched for food and fuel. More than 1,300 people died in the 10-day siege of the freezing city, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Residents have no heating or telephones, and many have no electricity. Nighttime temperatures are regularly below freezing, and daytime temperatures are normally just above freezing. The bodies are buried in mass graves. The streets are littered with burnt-out cars, broken glass and splintered trees.

“They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, mock him, bomb him and bomb him constantly,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation. He said the Russians launched a tank attack where there was supposed to be a humanitarian corridor.

On Thursday, firefighters tried to free a boy trapped in the rubble. One grabbed the boy’s hand. His eyes were blinking, but he was otherwise still. It was unclear if he survived. Nearby, near a mutilated truck, a woman wrapped in a blue blanket shudders at the sound of an explosion.

Grocery stores and pharmacies were emptied days ago by people who broke in to stock up, according to local Red Cross official Sacha Volkov. A black market operates for vegetables, meat is unavailable and people steal gasoline from cars, Volkov said.

Places safe from shelling are hard to find, with basements reserved for women and children, he said. The locals, Volkov said, are turning on each other: “People started attacking each other for food.”

An exhausted-looking Aleksander Ivanov pulled a cart loaded with bags down an empty street lined with damaged buildings.

“I no longer have a home. That’s why I’m moving,” he said. ” It does not exist anymore. He was hit by a mortar.

Repeated attempts to send food and medicine and evacuate civilians were thwarted by Russian shelling, Ukrainian authorities said.

“They want to destroy the people of Mariupol. They want to starve them to death,” Vereshchuk said. “It’s a war crime.

A total of some 100,000 people have been evacuated in the past two days from seven Russian-blockaded towns in the north and center of the country, including the outskirts of Kiev, Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy told Russian leaders that the invasion would backfire because their economy was being strangled. Western sanctions have already dealt a severe blow, causing the ruble to fall, foreign companies to flee and prices to rise sharply.

“You will definitely be prosecuted for complicity in war crimes,” Zelenskyy said in a video address. “And then, it will certainly happen, you will be hated by Russian citizens – all those whom you have deceived constantly, daily, for many years in a row, when they feel the consequences of your lies in their wallets, in their opportunities that arise shrink , in the future stolen Russian children.

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the remarks, saying the country had already suffered sanctions.

“We will overcome them,” he told a televised meeting of government officials. He acknowledged, however, that the sanctions create “certain challenges”.

In addition to those who have fled the country, millions of people have been driven from their homes inside Ukraine. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said around 2 million people, half the metropolitan region’s population, have left the capital.

“Every street, every house…is fortified,” he said. “Even people who in their life never intended to change their clothes are now in uniform with machine guns in their hands.”

A 14-year-old girl named Katya was recovering in the central district hospital in Brovary on the outskirts of Kiev on Thursday after her family was ambushed as she tried to flee the area. She was shot in the hand when their car was raked by gunfire from a roadside forest, said her mother, who identified herself only as Nina.

The girl’s father, who drove frantically from the ambush on flat tires, underwent surgery. His wife said he had been shot in the head and had two fingers blown off.

Western officials said Russian forces had made little progress on the ground in recent days and were seeing heavier casualties and firmer Ukrainian resistance than Moscow had apparently expected. But Putin’s forces used air power and artillery to strike Ukrainian cities.

Early in the day, the Mariupol City Council released a video showing a convoy it said was bringing food and medicine. But as night fell, it was unclear whether those buses had reached the city.

A child was among those killed in the hospital airstrike on Wednesday. Seventeen people were also injured, including women waiting to give birth, doctors and children buried in the rubble. Images of the attack, with pregnant women covered in dust and blood, dominated news reports in many countries.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the attack “a shameful and immoral act of war”. UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said that whether the hospital was hit by indiscriminate fire or deliberately targeted, “it is a war crime”.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, visiting Ukraine’s neighboring Poland, backed calls for an international inquiry into war crimes in the invasion, saying, “The eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of aggression and atrocities.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called concerns over civilian casualties “pathetic cries” from Russia’s enemies and denied that Ukraine had even been invaded.

Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, spoke at a Turkish resort in their first meeting since the invasion.

The two sides discussed a 24-hour ceasefire but made no progress, Kuleba said. He said Russia still wanted Ukraine to surrender, but insisted that would not happen.

Lavrov said Russia was ready for further negotiations, but he showed no sign of easing Moscow’s demands.

Russia has alleged that Western-looking, US-backed Ukraine poses a threat to its security. Western officials suspect Putin wants to install a Moscow-friendly government in Kyiv as part of an effort to bring the former Soviet state back into its orbit.

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Associated Press reporters Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and Felipe Dana and Andrew Drake in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed along with other reporters from around the world.

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Follow AP coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Evgeny Maloletka, The Associated Press


































































































































































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