(CN) — More civilian evacuations took place on Wednesday from besieged Ukrainian towns and cities on a day that was shattered by new reports of brutal Russian bombing, including an alleged missile attack on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, a key southern port city suffering a humanitarian disaster amid fierce fighting.
At the opening of the 14th day in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced it was allowing evacuations for a second day in a row from cities that its soldiers have surrounded.
But civilian evacuations remain extremely difficult amid continued fighting and accusations by both sides that ceasefires are being violated. Since the weekend, tentative ceasefires meant to permit civilian evacuations have ended prematurely due to fierce fighting.
Civilian relief efforts appeared to hold for much of the day on Wednesday and both sides reported fewer clashes. But by late afternoon Wednesday, Ukraine accused Russia of once again violating a ceasefire after it reported that a maternity hospital in Mariupol was struck by missile fire.
Mariupol is the scene of intense fighting between Russian forces and hardcore Ukrainian forces affiliated with the Azov Battalion, an ultranationalist militia group. The port city has been surrounded by Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian separatist forces and hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be suffering extreme hardship in a city that had a population of roughly 430,000 before Russia invaded on Feb. 24. It remains unclear how many civilians remain in the bombarded city.
Russia accuses Ukrainian forces of not letting civilians leave while Ukraine alleges Russia fires upon civilians who try to flee. There are few independent reporters in Mariupol and the situation in the city is very dire with civilians saying they are without food, water, electricity and other basic necessities following intense shelling of the city’s infrastructure.
Speaking to the BBC World Service, Serhiy Orlov, the deputy mayor, said a children's and maternity hospital was destroyed by Russia on Wednesday afternoon.
“We don't understand how it is possible in modern life to bomb a children's hospital,” he said, according to the BBC.
Dmytro Gurin, a Ukrainian member of parliament, broadcast images of the demolished Mariupol hospital on Twitter showing extensive damage.
There were conflicting reports on those wounded or killed, though the BBC reported that at least 17 people, including women in labor and staff at the hospital, were hurt. Russian sources accused Ukrainian soldiers of taking up positions inside the hospital’s buildings.
Until news of the alleged attack on the maternity hospital emerged, Wednesday had been relatively calm, though Ukrainian and foreign news outlets and social media showed people protesting in some cities and towns that have been taken by Russian troops. Russian troops, so far, have not apparently responded with violence against protesters.
On Thursday, the first high-level talks between Kyiv and Moscow are expected to take place when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to meet Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on the sidelines of an international conference on geopolitics in Turkey.
The prospects for any diplomatic breakthrough remain very grim and it appears the war in Ukraine is on a trajectory to only get even more intense in the days and weeks ahead. Thousands of volunteer fighters from Europe and beyond are reportedly arriving to fight for Ukraine and mercenaries are arriving to fight on the Russian side too. At the same time, arms shipments are ramping up on both sides.