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More civilians evacuated from Ukrainian cities, maternity hospital struck

Evacuations of civilians resumed from besieged Ukrainian cities during a day of relative calm, though the reported Russian bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol marked the resumption of more gruesome fighting.

(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.   

Dead bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. Proper burials are not possible because of the heavy shelling by Russian forces. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

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.    

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Russian forces have seized large swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine and its troops have begun to encircle Kyiv, the capital of 3 million people. But Ukrainian resistance remains stiff and Russia appears to have suffered heavy casualties and losses.   

On Tuesday, U.S. intelligence agencies estimated that Russia has lost up to 4,000 soldiers. If that count is correct, this military invasion by Russian President Vladimir Putin would make it the costliest military campaign for Russia since the end of the Soviet Union. By comparison, about 15,000 Soviet troops were killed during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that took place between 1979 and 1989.   

Wednesday saw U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris arrive in Poland for a three-day visit of Eastern Europe where she will be rallying NATO allies in the face of Russian aggression.   

The economic blockade of Russia is intensifying too after American corporate brands McDonald's, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Pepsi announced on Tuesday that they are pulling out of Russia. Other major American brands – including the Hilton hotel chain and Nestle – announced their own boycotts of Russia on Wednesday.   

Russia is being cut off from the West in an unprecedented manner with its airlines, athletes, products, politicians, news outlets, businesses, scholars, internet services and organizations largely banned in the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and allied countries.   

Despite such punishing measures, many other parts of the world – including Israel, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and China – continue to keep economic and political ties open with Russia.   

In response to the blockade by the West, Russia is adjusting its economic and political firmament to try to cope with the fallout from its decision to invade Ukraine, a country with which it shares a long history and for which it has chosen to stake its future upon.  

Russian financial markets were expected to be closed on Thursday and Putin signed into law on Wednesday a series of economic measures to assuage the tremendous blow he incurred by launching the invasion of Ukraine. Those measures are meant to shore up pensions, wages and business losses.  

From the Kremlin’s perspective, an invasion of Ukraine became an existential issue because its southwestern neighbor was becoming a de facto NATO member since a U.S.-backed coup d’etat took place in 2013-2014 with the so-called “Maidan Revolution,” which was a series of protests, violent events and intrigues that saw the democratically elected pro-Russian Ukrainian Viktor Yanukovych deposed and a pro-Western government installed in his place.  

The Maidan Revolution led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a peninsula where Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet is based at the naval base in Sevastopol, and the eruption of a quasi-civil war in eastern Ukraine between aggrieved eastern Ukrainians, who tend to be pro-Russian, and Ukraine’s central government, which had become adamant about the need to rid Ukraine of Russian influence following the Maidan Revolution. 

The conflict in eastern Ukraine remained unresolved despite a 2015 truce agreement, approved by the United Nations Security Council. Lingering tensions there, including the possibility of a Ukrainian military operation to reconquer separatist eastern Ukraine, set the stage for the devastating war now taking place.  

In justifying his invasion, Putin said it was necessary for Russia to rid a growing NATO threat on Russia’s borders in Ukraine and reestablish his country’s “brotherly” relations with Ukraine.  

Ukrainians cross an improvised path under a destroyed bridge while fleeing Irpin, Ukraine, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

However, Putin’s invasion has unlocked not just long-simmering tensions in Ukraine but radically altered the state of dynamics around the world and ushered in what many fear is a new tipping point where U.S. dominance is challenged and a new divide in global affairs descends, creating in practical terms a new “Iron Curtain” where relations between the so-called West and East are frozen.  

By the shutting off of Russia from the West, it appears increasingly likely that world politics will be defined by a divergence in economic and cultural models wherein Russia and China will develop new systems of banking, internet, trade and multilateral governance.       

The economic consequences of the West’s overwhelming rejection of Russia’s invasion – which is being characterized as tantamount to Adolf Hitler’s expansionist ideology at the start of World War II – are being felt around the globe as the price for gas, food and other basics quickly rise, prompting fears of a global recession and unrest across the planet.     

The conflict in Ukraine, meanwhile, is showing no signs of abating as Russia said it had evidence that NATO was establishing bioweapons laboratories in Ukraine and encouraging the development of nuclear weapons in the country.  

The West, meanwhile, warned that Russia was preparing to use chemical weapons in Ukraine and that it was endangering Europe by sabotaging nuclear power plants it has taken over in Ukraine, including Chernobyl, the site of a nuclear disaster in 1986. 

Ukraine is Europe’s second largest country after Russia and its vast flatlands were turned into an industrial powerhouse under Soviet rule. The Soviet Union built massive factories, pipelines and other infrastructure in Ukraine, a land that was until then largely defined by the presence of big farms.  

The industrial transformation of Ukraine caused a horrific famine in the 1930s that is known as the Holodomor. Millions died during Joseph Stalin’s radical decision to industrialize Ukraine.  

During World War II, an anti-Soviet Ukrainian nationalist movement took shape and it was supported by Nazi Germany, leading to a prolonged insurgency against the Soviet Union that was supported by the United States. The insurgency was ultimately defeated by brutal methods condoned by Stalin.  

Modern scholars, most notably American historian Timothy Snyder, have defined Ukraine as a “bloodlands,” a contested region between the West and East. Other scholars, however, note that Ukraine had enjoyed about 80 years of calm until the 2014 Maidan Revolution.  

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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