Nearly two million people have fled the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv’s mayor has said, as Russian forces advance on the city.
“From our information, one in two Kyiv residents has left the city,” Vitali Klitschko told Ukraine television on Thursday.
The greater Kyiv area had a population of about 3.5 million people last year, according to citypopulation.de, a website that tracks population statistics across the world.
Russian forces have reached the northeastern edge of the city, with heavy battles for control of the main highway reported during the night. Moscow has also been making progress against the cities of Kharkiv in the east and Mykolaiv in the south, amid heavy fighting.
Klitschko said the capital had been “transformed into a fortress”. “Every street, every building, every checkpoint has been fortified,” he said.
On Wednesday, two bombs hit two hospitals in a city west of Kyiv, according to the mayor. The World Health Organization said it has confirmed 18 attacks on medical facilities since the Russian invasion began two weeks ago.
An air raid also hit a maternity hospital in the port city of Mariupol, killing three people including a child and drawing widespread condemnation.
“What kind of country is this, the Russian Federation, which is afraid of hospitals, is afraid of maternity hospitals, and destroys them?” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked in a televised address late on Wednesday.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said no health facility “should ever be a target” and called for an “immediate halt to attacks on healthcare, hospitals, healthcare workers, ambulances”.
United States Vice President Kamala Harris has called for an investigation into Russia’s conduct in Ukraine and condemned what she said were “atrocities of unimaginable proportions” carried out by Moscow’s forces.
United Kingdom Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said hitting the hospital was “a war crime” regardless of whether it had been a deliberate act or not.
Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed the Mariupol hospital had been seized by far-right fighters who were using it as a base. Photographs of the aftermath, however, showed pregnant women and children at the site.
Meanwhile, a meeting in the Turkish city of Antalya between Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday failed to yield concrete results.
In their highest-level talks since the war began, the two sides discussed a 24-hour ceasefire but did not make progress, Kuleba said. He said Russia was still seeking “surrender from Ukraine”.
“This is not what they are going to get,” he noted.
Lavrov said Russia was ready for more negotiations but showed no sign of softening Moscow’s demands. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin could meet with Zelenskyy but only after further negotiations about Russia’s broader stipulations, including that Ukraine be disarmed and accept neutral status.
Temporary ceasefires to allow vital food and medical supplies into besieged cities and allow residents out have often faltered, with Ukraine accusing Russia of continuing their bombardments.
Zelenskyy said 35,000 people managed to get out on Wednesday from several besieged towns, and more efforts were under way on Thursday from towns and cities in eastern and southern Ukraine including Mariupol, where aid agencies say 400,000 people have been trapped for more than a week with no food, water or power.
The Mariupol city council posted a video Thursday showing buses driving down a highway, with a note saying that a convoy bringing food and medicine was on the way despite several days of thwarted efforts to reach the city.
“Everyone is working to get help to the people of Mariupol. And it will come,” Mayor Vadym Boychenko said.