WASHINGTON - Russian airstrikes hit three hospitals in Ukraine on Wednesday, including two west of the capital and a maternity hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol that wounded 17 people and that Ukrainian officials labeled a "war crime" and an "atrocity."
The attacks came amid hopes for mass-evacuations of civilians from several besieged Ukrainian cities, including Mariupol, which has been without food, water and power for days and which started burying bodies in a mass grave because its morgues are full.
In the nearly two weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, some 2 million people have fled the country, nearly half of them children, according to U.N. officials. Russian troops have captured swaths of territory in the south, but have faced fierce Ukrainian resistance in other regions.
Meanwhile, concerns rose over the safety of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, which Russian troops seized early in the invasion and which lost power and had to revert to backup generators. And with feeding the Ukrainian populace becoming an increasing concern, the government banned the export of wheat crucial to global food supplies in an effort to stave off food shortages inside the country.
VYSNE NEMECKE, SLOVAKIA - MARCH 09: Refugees fleeing Ukraine arrive at the Vysne Nemecke border crossing on March 9, 2022, in Vysne Nemecke, Slovakia. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Here’s a look at key things to know about the war:
Are civilians being safely evacuated?
Civilian evacuations were expected in a number of areas, including from the northeastern border city of Sumy, which saw 5,000 people evacuated safely on Tuesday. Nearly two dozen buses carrying aid to the city are expected to return with evacuated residents, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said efforts were being made Wednesday to evacuate some 18,000 people from embattled towns in the Kyiv region to the capital itself. Speaking in Russian, he appealed to Russian soldiers to save themselves and "just go home."
Other routes may be open out of Mariupol, Enerhodar in the south, Volnovakha in the southeast and Izyum in the east during a 12-hour-long cease-fire Wednesday. Civilians would be led to places in Ukraine controlled by the government.
However, it wasn't clear as of late Wednesday how many people managed to evacuate.
What has the AP directly witnessed or confirmed?
In AP video of the airstrike on the maternity hospital, thunderous bangs were followed by the sounds of glass breaking and car alarms going off as smoke rose from beyond a nearby building. Outside of Mariupol Hospital Number 3, a woman holding a small child cried uncontrollably while a Ukrainian soldier bandaged another woman’s head.
Rescue workers evacuated the injured down a staircase, including a woman who appeared to be pregnant. Her face was pale and she grabbed her belly before she was loaded into a waiting ambulance. There was a massive crater on the hospital grounds and debris everywhere.
Volodymir Nikulin, a regional police official, called it a "war crime without any justification."
Zelenskyy tweeted that there were "people, children under the wreckage." He called the strike an "atrocity." Pavlo Kirilenko, a regional government official, said 17 people were wounded, though rescuers were still searching for other casualties.
Workers in Mariupol on Wednesday continued hastily and unceremoniously burying scores of dead civilians and soldiers in a mass grave dug in a cemetery in the heart of the city.
With morgues overflowing and corpses uncollected in homes, city officials decided they couldn't wait to hold individual burials. Forty bodies were placed in the grave Tuesday and at least 30 more were put there Wednesday, though the number was rising so quickly that the total became unclear.
Some were brought wrapped in carpets or plastic bags. Workers quickly made the sign of the cross after pushing the bodies into the common grave. No family members or other mourners were there to say goodbye.
At the cemetery gates, a woman asked if her mother was among those buried in the trench. She said she had left her body three days earlier outside the morgue, with a paper label stating her name attached. Her mother was buried there, the workers told the woman, who declined to give her name.
Civilians from towns northwest of the capital, meanwhile, made their way toward Kyiv on Wednesday through a humanitarian corridor, with firefighters and police helping people carry their animals and belongings across damaged bridge over a small river.
What else is happening on the ground?
Russian aircraft on Wednesday evening bombed Zhytomyr, while artillery fire continued pounding the suburbs of Kyiv and Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city.
In Zhytomyr, a city of 260,000 west of Kyiv, Russian airstrikes hit two hospitals, including a children’s hospital, Mayor Serhii Sukhomlyn said on Facebook. He said the number of casualties was still being determined.
"Oh, this is a hot night," he said in a video address to city residents. "Russia understands that it is losing strategically, but we have to hold out."
Russian artillery shelled Kharkiv, destroying a police headquarters, killing at least four people and wounding 15 others, prosecutors office representative Serhii Bolvinov said on Facebook. He said 282 city residents, including six children, have been killed since the invasion began.
After darkness fell, Russian artillery again began shelling Kyiv suburbs.
A Ukrainian woman looks for food in a rubbish-bin in the center of Odessa on March 9, 2022. - Odessa, which Ukraine fears could be the next target of Russia's offensive in the south, is the country's main port and is vital for its economy. (Photo by
What's happening at Ukranian nuclear power plants?
All Chernobyl nuclear plant facilities are without power and the diesel generators have fuel for 48 hours, Ukraine's main grid operator said. The state communications agency said the power outage could put systems for cooling nuclear material at risk. The site has been under control of Russian troops since last week.
Ukraine’s nuclear regulator said remote data transmission from monitoring systems at Chernobyl has been lost.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog said it saw no critical impact on safety at Chernobyl because there could be "effective heat removal without need for electrical supply" from spent nuclear fuel at the site. The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, tweeted Wednesday that he would attend a meeting Thursday in Turkey between the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine in the hopes of making progress on the "urgent issue of ensuring the safety and security" of Ukraine's nuclear facilities.
Ukraine’s energy minister said Ukrainian staff at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest in Europe, are physically and emotionally exhausted. He said about 500 Russian soldiers and 50 pieces of heavy equipment are inside the station, which the Russians seized last week.
What are western countries doing to help Ukraine?
Western countries are sending arms and other aid to Ukraine and have ratcheted up sanctions on Russia in hopes of convincing Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back.
The Pentagon on Wednesday slammed the door on a plan to provide MiG fighter jets to Ukraine, even through a second country, calling it a "high-risk" venture that would not significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force. Poland had said it was prepared to hand over MiG-29 planes to NATO that could then be delivered to Ukraine, but Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said U.S. intelligence concluded that it could trigger a "significant" Russian reaction.
Cyprus said it sent its first 165-ton batch of humanitarian aid to Poland for distribution in Ukraine, including food, sleeping bags, tents, shoes and other items.
And donations poured in to a collection center in Paris for the people of Ukraine, including baby food and other aid.
"They’re fighting for us, they are fighting for our freedom. We just have to stop Putin and we have to help them," said donor Claude De Mol, 60, a German-Belgian woman who came to deliver medicine and gloves.
What's the view from inside Russia?
Russia has cracked down on independent reporting and blocked access to Russian-language journalism by multiple foreign news outlets. Scattered protests against the war continue in the country, but people in Russia are losing sources of information about what is happening.
The U.S. banned all Russian oil imports, even if it means rising costs for Americans, particularly at the gas pump. While U.S. and British bans on Russian oi l have increased the pressure on Europe to follow suit, the continent’s dependence on Russia for energy makes an immediate embargo much more difficult.
Heineken, Universal Music and Discovery joined other large companies such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and General Electric in suspending business in Russia.
Amazon said it was suspending shipments of goods sold on its website to customers in Russia and Belarus and barring new third-party sellers from those countries. It also said its cloud computing network, Amazon Web Services, would stop allowing new sign-ups from Russia and Belarus.