A maternity hospital in the southern port city of Mariupol was bombed by Russian forces on Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities said, marking a brutal new low in the two-week old invasion.
“Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror?,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted.
Footage shared by the country’s Ministry of Defense, and verified by the BBC and The New York Times, showed smoke rising from the destroyed building and pregnant women being taken out on stretchers. The city council wrote on Facebook that the destruction was “colossal.”
Ukrainian MP Dmitry Gurin initially told BBC anchor Yalda Hakim that there were “a lot of dead and wounded women” in the building, which holds both maternity and children’s hospitals. But Donetsk military administration chairman Pavel Kirilenko later said there were no casualties among mothers and children. He said at least 17 people were wounded, mainly medical staff, Ukrainian news outlet Hromadske reported.
It’s unclear how much of the damage to the hospital was sustained in the previous airstrikes that have hammered Mariupol for days.
In an apparent effort to maintain Moscow’s dubious claims that it is not targeting civilians in the war, a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed in a YouTube video on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces had been launching attacks from the hospital site before the bombing took place.
The hospital said last week that it had moved patients down to a basement transformed into a bomb shelter, leaving a glimmer of hope that injuries would not be catastrophic. It’s also unclear how many people were still in the facility after Russian forces cut the city’s water and power supply a week ago.
Mariupol had been under heavy attack for almost the entirety of the invasion, with Russian forces all but encircling the city, according to Britain’s Defense Ministry.
More than 1,000 deaths have been recorded in the city of 430,000 and the Associated Press’ correspondents reported earlier Wednesday that the scene was extremely grim. “Corpses lie in the streets... Hungry people break into stores in search of food and melt snow for water. Thousands huddle in basements, trembling at the sound of Russian shells pounding this strategic port city,” the outlet reported.
One city official told The New York Times he’d seen people “drink from puddles in the streets” and Deputy Mayor Sergiy Orlov described the situation as “medieval.”
Russia had initially promised to recognize a safe evacuation corridor for Mariupol’s civilians but Ukrainian officials reported that Russian attacks prevented a convoy of rescuers from reaching the city.
Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday that a six-year-old girl had died of dehydration as a result and civilians were being held “hostage.”