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School bombed in Mariupol, Ukraine; Zelenskyy cites war crimes as Russia says hypersonic missile hit Ukrainian fuel depot

LVIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian authorities said Russian military bombed an art school where about 400 people had taken refuge in the port city of Mariupol, where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said a relentless siege by Russian troops would make up for what he said in go down in history war crimes.

Local authorities said the school’s building was destroyed and people may remain under the rubble. There was no immediate information about casualties. Russian forces also bombed a theater in Mariupol where civilians were taking shelter on Wednesday, authorities said.

“Doing to a peaceful city what the occupiers did is a terror that will be remembered for centuries,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation.

Mariupol, a strategic port on the Sea of ​​Azov, has been bombed for at least three weeks and has become a symbol of the horror of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Local authorities said the siege cut off food, water and energy supplies and killed at least 2,300 people, some of whom had to be buried in mass graves.

Russian troops have surrounded the stricken city and have pushed deeper into it in recent days. Heavy fighting crippled a major steel mill and local authorities appealed for more western aid on Saturday.

“Children, old people die. The city is devastated and vanished from the face of the earth,” Mariupol police officer Mikhail Vershnin said from a debris-strewn street in video aimed at Western leaders and authenticated by The Associated Press.

The fall of Mariupol, the scene of some of the war’s worst suffering, would mean a major advance on the battlefield for the Russians, whose advance outside of other major cities has largely stalled more than three weeks after Europe’s biggest land invasion since World War II .

In the capital Kyiv, at least 20 babies being carried by Ukrainian surrogates are stuck in a makeshift bomb shelter, waiting for parents to travel to the war zone to pick them up. Some are only a few days old and are cared for by nurses who are unable to leave the shelter because Russian troops are constantly trying to encircle the town.

Details also surfaced about a missile attack that killed up to 40 marines in the Black Sea port city of Mykolayiv on Friday, according to a Ukrainian military official who spoke to The New York Times. It was not clear how many Marines were inside at the time, and rescuers continued to search the rubble of the barracks.

A senior Ukrainian military official, who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity to reveal confidential information, estimated that up to 40 marines were killed, making it one of the deadliest known attacks on Ukrainian forces during the war.

Meanwhile, the Russian military on Sunday said it had launched a new series of attacks on Ukrainian military installations using long-range hypersonic and cruise missiles.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said a Kinzhal hypersonic missile hit a Ukrainian fuel depot in Kostyantynivka, a town near Mykolaiv. The Russian military said on Saturday it had used a Kinzhal for the first time in combat to destroy an ammunition depot in Diliatyn in the Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine.

Russia has said the Kinzhal, carried by MiG-31 fighter jets, has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Saturday the US could not confirm the use of a hypersonic missile in Ukraine.

Konashenkov said Kalibr cruise missiles fired from the Caspian Sea by Russian warships also took part in the attack on the Kostyantynivka fuel depot and were used to destroy an armaments repair factory in Nizhyn, in the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine.

Despite the siege of Mariupol and the geographical scope of the Russian attack, many remained impressed by Ukraine’s ability to hold back its much larger, better-armed enemy. The UK Ministry of Defense said Ukraine’s airspace will continue to be effectively defended.

“Gaining control of the air was one of Russia’s key objectives in the early days of the conflict and their continued failure to do so has severely hampered their operational progress,” the ministry said on Twitter.

Russia now relies on standoff weapons fired from the relative safety of Russian airspace to hit targets in Ukraine, the UK ministry said.

Estimates of Russian deaths vary widely, but even conservative numbers are in the low thousands. In the 2008 war with Georgia, Russia had 64 dead in five days of fighting. It has lost about 15,000 people in Afghanistan in ten years and more than 11,000 in the years of fighting in Chechnya.

Russia’s death and wounded toll in Ukraine is nearing the 10 percent mark for reduced combat effectiveness, said Dmitry Gorenburg, a researcher on Russia’s security at the Virginia-based CNA think tank. The reported deaths of four Russian generals on the battlefield — out of an estimated 20 in combat — signals compromised leadership, Gorenburg said.

Russia would need 800,000 troops – almost as many as its entire active-duty military – to control Ukraine in the long term in the face of armed opposition, said Michael Clarke, former head of the UK-based Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank.

“Unless the Russians intend to carry out a full-scale genocide – they could raze all major cities and the Ukrainians will rise up against the Russian occupation – there will just be constant guerrilla warfare,” Clarke said.

UN bodies have confirmed more than 847 civilian deaths since the war began, although they concede the real number is likely much higher. According to the United Nations, more than 3.3 million people have fled Ukraine as refugees.

Evacuations from Mariupol and other besieged cities were made along eight of 10 humanitarian corridors agreed by Ukraine and Russia on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, and a total of 6,623 people left the country.

Vereshchuk said the planned humanitarian aid for the southern city of Kherson, which Russia captured earlier in the war, could not be delivered because the trucks were stopped en route by Russian troops.

Ukraine and Russia have held several rounds of negotiations to end the conflict but remain divided on several issues, with Moscow pushing for its neighbor’s demilitarization and Kyiv demanding security guarantees.

In Ukraine, hospitals, schools and buildings where people took shelter were attacked.

A satellite image released by Maxar Technologies on Saturday confirmed earlier reports that much of the theater in Mariupol was destroyed. It also showed the word “CHILDREN” in Russian in large white letters outside the building.

Russian forces fired on eight towns and villages in the eastern Donetsk region between Friday and Saturday, Ukraine’s National Police said. Dozens of civilians were killed or wounded and at least 37 homes and facilities were damaged, including a school, museum and shopping mall.

Military veterans trained dozens of civilians in the use of firearms and grenades in western Ukraine’s cultural capital of Lviv, which was hit by Russian missiles on Friday.

“It’s hard because I have really weak hands, but I can do it,” said one trainee, 22-year-old Katarina Ishchenko.

Mariupol City Council claimed on Saturday that Russian soldiers forcibly relocated several thousand city residents, mostly women and children, to Russia. It didn’t say where, and AP couldn’t immediately confirm the claim.

Zelenskyi adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said the closest forces that could support Mariupol are already fighting “the overwhelming force of the enemy” and “there is currently no military solution to Mariupol.”

Zelenskyy on Sunday ordered 11 political parties with ties to Russia, the largest of which has 44 of 450 seats in the country’s parliament, to suspend their activities during the period of martial law.

“Activities by politicians aimed at discord and cooperation will not succeed,” he said in the address.

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Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and other AP journalists around the world contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Dais Johnston

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