Russia has refused to guarantee humanitarian access to rescue hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians trapped under shelling, according to Ukraine.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has entered a third week without achieving any of its stated goals, despite thousands dead, more than two million refugees and thousands cowering in besieged cities under incessant bombings.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met with Russian Sergei Lavrov in Turkey on Thursday but said he had not gotten any promises from him to stop firing so aid could reach civilians.
One of the main humanitarian priorities is the evacuation of the hundreds of thousands of people stranded in the besieged port of Mariupol.
“I made a simple proposal to Minister Lavrov: I can call my Ukrainian ministers, the authorities, the president now and give you 100% assurances about the security guarantees for the humanitarian corridors,” he said. .
“I asked him ‘can you do the same?’ and he didn’t answer.”
Holding his own simultaneous press conference in a separate room, Lavrov showed no sign of making any concessions, reiterating Russian demands that Ukraine be disarmed and accept neutral status.
He said Kiev appeared to want meetings for meetings’ sake and a ceasefire was not supposed to be on the agenda for talks with Turkey.
Aid agencies say humanitarian aid is most urgently needed in Mariupol, where 400,000 people have been stranded for more than a week without food, water or electricity.
The city council said the port suffered further airstrikes on Thursday morning, a day after Moscow bombed what Ukraine called a functioning maternity hospital.
Lavrov said the building was no longer used as a hospital and had been occupied by Ukrainian forces.
The Kremlin did not initially repeat that denial and said the incident was under investigation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia’s claim was not true and that three people, including a child, were killed in the airstrike, which came despite a ceasefire agreement to allow people to flee Mariupol.
The regional governor said 17 people, including pregnant women, were injured.
“What kind of country is it, the Russian Federation, which is afraid of hospitals, is afraid of maternities and destroys them?” Zelenskiy said in a televised address late Wednesday, after posting footage of the wreckage.
Ukraine said a convoy trying to reach the city was again turned back on Thursday by Russian fire and accused Moscow of deliberately blocking aid.
Daily attempts at a local humanitarian ceasefire have failed since Saturday.
Lavrov repeatedly lashed out at the West, accusing Western countries of aggravating the situation by arming Ukraine.
When asked if the conflict could lead to a nuclear war, he replied: “I don’t want to believe, and I don’t believe, that a nuclear war could break out.”
Russian forces have advanced south but have yet to capture a single town to the north or east.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Thursday that a large Russian column northwest of Kiev had made little progress in more than a week and was suffering continued casualties.
Western-imposed sanctions, designed to cut off the Russian economy and government from international financial markets, have bitten hard, with the ruble plunging and ordinary Russians rushing to hoard the cash.
Britain on Thursday added several Russian businessmen to its blacklist, including Roman Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea football team.
The sanctions would block an attempt to sell the club, but a special license would allow him to continue playing.
The White House condemned the hospital bombing as “a barbaric use of military force to target innocent civilians.”
The UN human rights body said it was trying to verify the number of victims.
The incident “adds to our deep concerns about the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas”, he added through a spokesperson.
Australian Associated Press