US steps up pressure on Russia over Ukraine invasion

Hundreds of thousands of civilians remained trapped in Ukrainian cities, sheltering from Russian air raids and shelling despite repeated Russian promises to provide humanitarian corridors for evacuations.

Russia’s defence ministry said it would declare a ceasefire on Friday and open humanitarian corridors from Mariupol as well as Kyiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv, although previous ceasefires have failed.

Ukraine hopes a humanitarian corridor will be opened successfully for Mariupol civilians to leave, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.  

Residents have been cowering under fire, and without power or water, in the strategic ally important city of over 400,000 people for more than a week and attempts to arrange a local ceasefire and safe passage out have failed repeatedly.  

“We hope it will work today,” Ms Vereshchuk said in a televised statement in which she said she hoped several other humanitarian corridors would also be opened.  

Officials in the besieged port of Mariupol said Russian warplanes again bombed the city on Thursday, a day after a maternity hospital was pulverised in an attack the United States said was evidence of a war crime.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that not a single civilian had been able to leave Mariupol on Thursday, after the hospital attack that he said killed three people. 

Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Washington was “working with others in the international community to document the crimes that Russia is committing against the Ukrainian people”.

“They constitute war crimes; there are attacks on civilians that cannot be justified by any – in any way whatsoever,” she said in an interview with the BBC.

Russia blames Ukraine for the collapse of humanitarian corridors and denies targeting civilians. 

Mr Lavrov said the hospital struck on Wednesday had stopped treating patients and had been occupied by Ukrainian “radicals”.

Russia’s Defence Ministry later denied having bombed the hospital at all, accusing Ukraine of a “staged provocation”.

Mr Zelensky said on Thursday that Ukrainian authorities had managed to evacuate almost 40,000 people from the cities of Sumy, Trostyanets, Krasnopillya, Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel and Izyum.

Meanwhile, Russian-backed separatists have captured the Ukrainian city of Volnovakha north of the besieged Azov Sea port of Mariupol, the RIA news agency quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying.  

Volnovakha is strategically important as the northern gateway to Mariupol.

Military airfields in the Ukrainian cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk have been taken out of action by the Russian forces as well, Russian news agencies reported, citing Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov. 

Mr Konashenkov also said that Russian forces had destroyed 3,213 Ukrainian military installations.

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