A pregnant woman and her baby have died after Russia bombed the Ukrainian maternity hospital where the expectant mother was meant to give birth, media reports said.
Images of the aftermath of last Wednesday’s attack showing the woman being rushed to an ambulance on a stretcher had shocked the world, epitomising the horror of the assault.
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The victim cradled her bloodied belly as rescuers rushed her through the rubble in the besieged city of Mariupol, her blanched face mirroring her shock at what had just happened.
Ukrainian authorities say the city has been subject to relentless bombardment since Russian troops surrounded it on March 2.
Since then, the roughly 400,000 people who remain in Mariupol have been left without access to water, food and medicine. Heat and phone services – and electricity in many areas – have been cut.
The woman in the photos shot by Associated Press journalists was rushed to another hospital, even closer to the front line, where doctors worked to keep her alive.
Realising she was losing her baby, medics said she cried out to them, “Kill me now!”
Surgeon Timur Marin found the woman’s pelvis crushed and hip detached. Medics delivered the baby via cesarean section, but it showed “no signs of life,” the surgeon said.
Then, they focused on the mother.
“More than 30 minutes of resuscitation of the mother didn’t produce results,” Marin said Saturday. “Both died.”
Medics did not have time to get the woman’s name before her husband and father came to take her body away.
At least someone came to retrieve her, they said – so her body did not end up in the mass graves being dug for many of Mariupol’s growing number of dead.
Accused of war crimes, Russian officials claim the maternity hospital had been taken over by Ukrainian “extremists” to use as a base, and that no patients or medics were left inside.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN and the Russian Embassy in London drew scorn for calling the images “fake news”.
Blogger Mariana Vishegirskaya was also at the hospital; she gave birth to a girl the day after the air raid and lay with her arm wrapped around newborn Veronika as she recounted Wednesday’s bombing.
After photos and video showed her navigating down debris-strewn stairs, clutching a blanket around her pregnant frame, Russian officials claimed she was an actor in a staged attack.
“It happened on March 9 in Hospital No. 3 in Mariupol. We were laying in wards when glasses, frames, windows and walls flew apart,” Vishegirskaya, still wearing the same polka dot pyjamas she had on when she fled, told the AP.
“We don’t know how it happened. We were in our wards and some had time to cover themselves, some didn’t.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday called for an immediate cessation of all attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine.
“These horrific attacks are killing and causing serious injuries to patients and health workers, destroying vital health infrastructure and forcing thousands to forgo accessing health services despite catastrophic needs,” the statement read.
“To attack the most vulnerable – babies, children, pregnant women, and those already suffering from illness and disease, and health workers risking their own lives to save lives – is an act of unconscionable cruelty.”
Meanwhile, the Azov Sea port city, key to creating a land bridge from Russia to Russian-annexed Crimea, is slowly starving.
In a makeshift new maternity ward, each approaching childbirth brings new tension.
“All birthing mothers have lived through so much,” said nurse Olga Vereshagina.
One of the distraught mothers lost some of her toes in the bombing. Medics performed a caesarean section on her Friday, carefully pulling out her daughter and rubbing the newborn vigorously to stimulate signs of life.
After a few breathless seconds, the baby, named Alana, cried.
Cheers of joy resonated through the room. Alana’s mother cried, and medical workers wiped tears from their eyes.