Russians ‘were shooting civilians’: Ukraine refugees saw abuses

Russians ‘were shooting civilians’: Ukraine refugees saw abuses


The latest details about Russia’s attack on Ukraine:

In Mariupol, three died in the bombing of a maternity hospital

5:45 a.m. EST March 10

As more than 2 million refugees from Ukraine begin to scatter throughout Europe and beyond, some are carrying valuable witness evidence to build a case for war crimes.

More and more, the peope who are turning up at border crossings are survivors who have fled some of the cities hardest hit by Russian forces.

“It was very eerie,” said Ihor Diekov, one of the many people who crossed the Irpin river outside Kyiv on the slippery wooden planks of a makeshift bridge after Ukrainians blew up the concrete span to slow the Russian advance.

He heard gunshots as he crossed and saw corpses along the road.

“The Russians promised to provide a (humanitarian) corridor which they did not comply with. They were shooting civilians,” he said. “That’s absolutely true. I witnessed it. People were scared.”

Such testimonies will increasingly reach the world in the coming days as more people flow along fragile humanitarian corridors.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday said three such corridors were operating from bombarded areas. People left Sumy, in the northeast near the Russian border; suburbs of Kyiv; and Enerhodar, the southern town where Russian forces took over a large nuclear plant. In all, about 35,000 people got out, he said.

More evacuations were announced for Thursday as desperate residents sought to leave cities where food, water, medicines and other essentials were running out.

Nationwide, thousands of people are thought to have been killed across Ukraine, both civilians and soldiers, since Russian forces invaded two weeks ago. City officials in the blockaded port city of Mariupol have said 1,200 residents have been killed there, including three in the bombing of a children’s hospital. In Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, the prosecutor’s office has said 282 residents have been killed, including several children.

The United Nations human rights office said Wednesday it had recorded the killings of 516 civilians in Ukraine in the two weeks since Russia invaded, including 37 children. Most have been caused by “the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area,” it said. It believes the real toll is “considerably higher” and noted that its numbers don’t include some areas of “intense hostilities,” including Mariupol.

Some of the latest refugees have seen those deaths first-hand. Their testimonies will be a critical part of efforts to hold Russia accountable for targeting civilians and civilian structures like hospitals and homes.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor last week launched an investigation that could target senior officials believed responsible for war crimes, after dozens of the court’s member states asked him to act. Evidence collection has begun.

Those who manage to flee fear for those who can’t.

“I am afraid,” said Anna Potapola, a mother of two who arrived in Poland from the city of Dnipro. “When we had to leave Ukraine my children asked me, ‘Will we survive?’ I am very afraid and scared for the people left behind.”

Russians hitting health facilities and ambulances

The World Health Organization said it has confirmed 18 attacks on health facilities and ambulances since the fighting began, killing 10 people. It was not clear if that number included the assault on the maternity hospital.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken condemned Russia’s “unconscionable attacks” in a call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, the State Department said.

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.

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

Authorities announced new cease-fires to allow thousands of civilians to escape bombarded towns. Zelenskyy said three humanitarian corridors operated on Wednesday, from Sumy in the northeast 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 got out. More evacuations were planned for Thursday.

People streamed out of Kyiv’s suburbs, many headed for the city center, 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.

Civilians leaving the Kyiv suburb of Irpin were forced to make their way across the slippery wooden planks of a makeshift bridge, because the Ukrainians blew up the concrete span leading to Kyiv days ago to slow the Russian advance.

With sporadic gunfire echoing behind them, firefighters dragged an elderly man to safety in a wheelbarrow, a child gripped the hand of a helping soldier, and a woman inched her way along, cradling a fluffy cat inside her winter coat. They trudged past a crashed van with the words “Our Ukraine” written in the dust coating its windows.

“We have a short window of time at the moment,’’ said Yevhen Nyshchuk, a member of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces. “Even if there is a cease-fire right now, there is a high risk of shells falling at any moment.”

Previous attempts to establish safe evacuation corridors over the past few days largely failed because of what the Ukrainians said were Russian attacks. But Putin, in a telephone call with Germany’s chancellor, accused militant Ukrainian nationalists of hampering the evacuations.

In Mariupol, a strategic city of 430,000 people on the Sea of Azov, local authorities hurried to bury the dead from the past two weeks of fighting in a mass grave. City workers dug a trench some 25 meters (yards) long at one of the city’s old cemeteries and made the sign of the cross as they pushed bodies wrapped in carpets or bags over the edge.

About 1,200 people have died in the nine-day siege of the city, Zelenskyy’s office said.

Nationwide, thousands are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, since Putin’s forces invaded. The U.N. estimates more than 2 million people have fled the country, the biggest exodus of refugees in Europe since the end of World War II.

The fighting knocked out power to the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, raising fears about the spent radioactive fuel that is stored at the site and must be kept cool. But the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said it saw “no critical impact on safety” from the loss of power.

The crisis is likely to get worse as Moscow’s forces step up their bombardment of cities in response to what appear to be stronger Ukrainian resistance and heavier Russian losses than anticipated.

Echoing remarks from the director of the CIA a day earlier, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia’s assault will get “more brutal and more indiscriminate” as Putin tries to regain momentum.

The Biden administration warned that Russia might seek to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, rejecting Russian claims of illegal chemical weapons development in the country it has invaded.

This week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova — without evidence — accused Ukraine of running chemical and biological weapons labs with U.S. support. White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the claim “preposterous” and said it could be part of an attempt by Russia to lay the groundwork for its own use of such weapons against Ukraine.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said fighting continued northwest of Kyiv. Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol were being heavily shelled and remained encircled by Russian forces.

Russian forces are placing military equipment on farms and amid residential buildings in the northern city of Chernihiv, Ukraine’s military said. In the south, Russians in civilian clothes are advancing on the city of Mykolaiv, a Black Sea shipbuilding center of a half-million people, it said.

The Ukrainian military, meanwhile, is building up defenses in cities in the north, south and east, and forces around Kyiv are “holding the line” against the Russian offensive, authorities said.

On Wednesday, some of Ukraine’s volunteer fighters trained in a Kyiv park with rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

“I have only one son,” said Mykola Matulevskiy, a 64-year-old retired martial arts coach, who was with his son, Kostyantin. “Everything is my son.”

But now they will fight together: “It’s not possible to have it in another way because it’s our motherland. We must defend our motherland first of all.”

In Irpin, a town of 60,000, police officers and soldiers helped elderly residents from their homes. One man was hoisted out of a damaged structure on a makeshift stretcher, while another was pushed toward Kyiv in a shopping cart. Fleeing residents said they had been without power and water for the past four days.

Regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said the crisis for civilians is deepening in and around Kyiv, with the situation particularly dire in the suburbs.

The situation is even worse in Mariupol, where efforts to evacuate residents and deliver badly needed food, water and medicine failed Tuesday because of what the Ukrainians said were continued Russian attacks.

The city took advantage of a lull in the shelling Wednesday to hurriedly bury 70 people. Some were soldiers, but most were civilians.

The work was conducted efficiently and without ceremony. No mourners were present, no families to say their goodbyes.

One woman stood at the gates of the cemetery to ask whether her mother was among those being buried. She was.

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



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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.