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US warns Putin may use chemical weapons as Mariupol buries the dead after hospital attack


“I will say frankly that my expectations of the talks are low,” Kuleba said in a video statement. “We are interested in a ceasefire, liberating our territories and the third point is to resolve all humanitarian issues.”

Russia, which denies targeting civilians during its 14-day war on its neighbour, had said it would hold fire to let civilians flee Mariupol and other besieged cities. But the city council said the hospital was hit more than once.

“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.”

Ukrainian officials said the attack at a medical complex in Mariupol wounded at least 17 people. The death toll is still unknown but a photographer from Associated Press witnessed a mass burial on the day.

Bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of beseiged Mariupol in southern Ukraine.

Bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of beseiged Mariupol in southern Ukraine. Credit:AP

Video footage of what appeared to be the charred and smoking remains of the hospital showed cars on fire in the wreckage, the building’s windows blown out. A man was pushing a child through the rubble on a stretcher, while others helped the injured from the building.

A man in the city of Dnipro told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that his mother usually worked in the hospital.

“She is not there now … it’s terrible,” he said, showing vision of the attack on his phone.

In Zhytomyr, a city of 260,000 to the west of Kyiv, bombs fell on two hospitals, one of them a children’s hospital, Mayor Serhii Sukhomlyn said on Facebook. He said there were no injuries.

Zelensky said the Mariupol strike trapped children and others under debris.

“A children’s hospital. A maternity hospital. How did they threaten the Russian Federation?” Zelensky asked in his nightly video address, switching to Russian to express horror at the strike. “What kind of country is this, the Russian Federation, which is afraid of hospitals, afraid of maternity hospitals, and destroys them?”

He urged the West to impose even tougher sanctions, so Russia “no longer has any possibility to continue this genocide”.

Russia has attacked medical facilities in Ukraine at least 18 times since the invasion began two weeks ago, according to the World Health Organisation.

Authorities announced new ceasefires to allow thousands of civilians to escape bombarded towns. Zelensky said three humanitarian corridors operated on Wednesday (Thursday), from Sumy in the north-east near the Russian border, from suburbs of Kyiv and from Enerhodar, the southern town where Russian forces took over a large nuclear plant.

In all, he said, about 35,000 people escaped. More evacuations are planned.

People streamed out of Kyiv’s suburbs, many headed for the capital’s centre, as explosions were heard in the capital and air raid sirens sounded repeatedly. From there, the evacuees planned to board trains bound for western Ukrainian regions not under attack.

The latest attacks prompted condemnation from many world leaders.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there were “few things more depraved” than targeting the “vulnerable and defenceless”.

Ukrainian emergency employees at the maternity hospital in Mariupol.

Ukrainian emergency employees at the maternity hospital in Mariupol.Credit:AP/Evgeniy Maloletka

In a phone call with Zelensky on Thursday morning Australian time, Johnson said it was yet further evidence that Putin was acting with careless disregard for international humanitarian law.

In Washington, British foreign minister Liz Truss said, in a press conference alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that the incident was “reckless and abhorrent”.

Flagging greater sanctions aimed at Moscow, Truss said that by “letting up” its efforts in helping Ukraine, Britain “would be sending a message that sovereign nations can be trampled on”.

Two weeks into Russia’s assault on Ukraine, its military is struggling more than expected, but Putin’s invading force of more than 150,000 troops retains possibly insurmountable advantages in firepower as it bears down on key cities.

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Despite often heavy shelling on populated areas, American military officials reported little change on the ground over the previous 24 hours, other than Russian progress against the cities of Kharkiv and Mykolaiv, in heavy fighting. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to assess the military situation.

with agencies

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