Russia bombs Mariupol art school where 400 people were sheltering, Ukrainian officials say

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian authorities said Sunday that the Russian military bombed an art school where about 400 people had taken refuge in the port city of Mariupol, where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said a relentless siege by Russian troops would go down in history as what he called war crimes.

Local authorities said the school building had been destroyed and there could be people under the rubble. There was no word on the casualties.

Russian forces also shelled a theater in Mariupol where civilians were sheltering on Wednesday. City authorities said 130 people had been rescued but many more could remain under the rubble. A Russian airstrike hit a maternity ward in Mariupol early in the war.

“To do this in a peaceful city, which the occupiers did, is a terror that will be remembered for centuries,” Zelensky said in a video address to the nation.

Mariupol, a strategic port on the Sea of ​​Azov, was surrounded by Russian troops and cut off from energy, food and water supplies, and faced incessant bombardment. Local authorities said the siege killed at least 2,300 people and some of them had to be buried in mass graves.

Russian forces pushed deeper into the battered town, where heavy fighting shuttered a major steel mill and local authorities pleaded for more Western aid on Saturday.

Ukrainian rescue workers work next to the shell-damaged maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

“Children, old people are dying. The city is destroyed and it is wiped off the face of the earth,” Mariupol police officer Michail Vershnin said from a rubble-strewn street in a video addressed to Western leaders and authenticated by The Associated Press.

Local residents carry water from the food warehouse, in the territory under the control of the Donetsk People’s Republic government, to the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 18, 2022. (Alexei Alexandrov/AP)

The fall of Mariupol, scene of some of the war’s worst suffering, would mark a major battlefield breakthrough for the Russians, who have been largely bogged down outside major cities for more than three weeks in the biggest ground invasion. in Europe since World War II.

In the capital, Kyiv, at least 20 babies carried by Ukrainian surrogate mothers are stuck in a makeshift bomb shelter, waiting for their parents to travel to the war zone to pick them up. Barely a few days old, the babies are cared for by nurses who cannot leave the shelter because of the constant shelling by Russian troops trying to surround the town.

Nanny Svitlana Stetsiuk plays with a baby born through surrogacy, seen at a nursery in kyiv, Ukraine, March 19, 2022. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Details also began to emerge on Saturday of a rocket attack that killed up to 40 marines in the southern city of Mykolaiv the previous day, according to a Ukrainian military official who spoke to The New York Times.

Russian forces have already severed Mariupol from the Sea of ​​Azov, and its fall would connect Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, to eastern territories controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. It would be a rare breakthrough in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance that has dashed Russia’s hopes of a quick victory and galvanized the West.

Ukrainian and Russian forces fought over the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, said Vadym Denysenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister. “One of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe is being destroyed,” Denysenko said in televised remarks.

A hospital worker enters a basement used as a bomb shelter at the Ohmatdyt Children’s Hospital in kyiv, Ukraine, March 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

The Mariupol City Council claimed hours later that Russian soldiers had forcibly moved several thousand of the city’s residents, mostly women and children, to Russia. He did not specify where, and AP could not immediately confirm the claim.

Zelensky’s adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said the closest forces that could help Mariupol were already fighting against “the overwhelming strength of the enemy” and that “there is currently no military solution in Mariupol”.

Zelensky on Sunday ordered 11 political parties with ties to Russia, the largest of which holds 44 of the country’s 450 parliament seats, to suspend their activities during the period of martial law.

“The activities of politicians aimed at discord and collaboration will not succeed,” he said in his speech.

Russian forces pushed deeper into the beleaguered and battered city, where heavy fighting shut down a major steel mill and local authorities pleaded for more Western aid.

Despite the siege of Mariupol, many were struck by Ukraine’s ability to hold off its much larger and better armed enemy. The UK Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian airspace continued to be effectively defended.

“Gaining control of the air was one of Russia’s primary objectives for the early days of the conflict and their continued failure to do so has significantly blunted their operational progress,” the ministry said on Twitter.

Russia now relies on ranged weapons launched from the relative safety of Russian airspace to strike targets in Ukraine, the ministry said.

In Mykolaiv, rescuers searched the rubble of the navy barracks which was destroyed in an apparent missile attack on Friday. The region’s governor said the marines were sleeping when the attack happened.

It was unclear how many Marines were inside at the time, and rescuers were still searching the rubble for survivors the next day. But a senior Ukrainian military official, who spoke to The New York Times on condition of anonymity to reveal sensitive information, estimated that up to 40 marines had been killed, making it one of the worst attacks. deadliest known killings against Ukrainian forces during the war.

Ukrainian soldiers and rescuers search for bodies in the rubble of the military school hit by Russian rockets the day before, in Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, on March 19, 2022. (Bulent Kilic/AFP)

Estimates of Russian deaths vary widely, but even conservative figures are in the thousands. Russia suffered 64 deaths in five days of fighting in its 2008 war with Georgia. He lost about 15,000 in Afghanistan in 10 years and more than 11,000 during the years of fighting in Chechnya.

The number of Russian dead and wounded in Ukraine is approaching the benchmark of 10% reduced combat effectiveness, said Dmitry Gorenburg, Russia security researcher at the Virginia-based think tank CNA. The reported deaths on the battlefield of four Russian generals — out of an estimated 20 in the fight — signals impaired command, Gorenburg said.

Russia would need 800,000 troops – almost the equivalent of its entire active-duty army – to control Ukraine in the long term in the face of armed opposition, said Michael Clarke, former head of the Royal United Services Institute, a UK-based defense think tank.

“Unless the Russians intend to be completely genocidal – they could raze all the big cities, and the Ukrainians will rise up against the Russian occupation – there will only be constant guerrilla warfare,” he said. said Clarke.

The Russian military said on Saturday it used its latest hypersonic missile for the first time in combat. Major General Igor Konashenkov said the Kinzhal missiles destroyed an underground warehouse storing Ukrainian missiles and aviation ammunition in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region.

Russia said the Kinzhal, carried by MiG-31 fighter jets, has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the United States could not confirm the use of a hypersonic missile.

UN bodies have confirmed the death of more than 847 civilians since the start of the war, although they admit the true toll is likely much higher. The UN says more than 3.3 million people have fled Ukraine as refugees.

Evacuations from Mariupol and other besieged towns took place along eight of the 10 humanitarian corridors, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, and a total of 6,623 people left.

Vereshchuk said humanitarian aid planned for the southern city of Kherson, which Russia seized at the start of the war, could not be delivered because the trucks were stopped en route by Russian troops. .

A driver crosses a barricade built by territorial defense units in downtown kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, March 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Ukraine and Russia have held several rounds of talks aimed at ending the conflict but remain divided on several issues, with Moscow pushing for the demilitarization of its neighbor and kyiv demanding security guarantees.

Across Ukraine, hospitals, schools and buildings where people were seeking shelter were attacked.

Russian forces have fired on eight towns and villages in the eastern region of Donetsk in the past 24 hours, including Mariupol, Ukraine’s national police said on Saturday. Dozens of civilians were killed or injured and at least 37 residential buildings and facilities were damaged, including a school, museum and shopping mall.

In the western city of Lviv, Ukraine’s cultural capital, which was hit by Russian missiles on Friday, military veterans were training dozens of civilians in the use of firearms and grenades.

“It’s hard, because I have really weak hands, but I can do it,” said trainee Katarina Ishchenko, 22.

Dora W. Clawson