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Friday, December 09, 2022

Russia broadens attacks on Ukraine, destroying psychiatric facility near Kharkiv region

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    Mariana Vishegirskaya lies in a hospital bed after giving birth to her daughter Veronika, in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 11, 2022. Vishegirskaya survived the Russian airstrike on a children’s and maternity hospital in Mariupol last Wednesday.Evgeniy Maloletka/The Associated Press

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Ukraine’s defense minister has accused Russian forces of killing more civilians than soldiers in his country, as new attacks struck a psychiatric facility and western airfields early Friday morning.

Among the targets was a psychiatric residential facility about 80 kilometers from Kharkiv region, two days after the bombing of a children’s hospital and maternity ward in Mariupol.

On Friday, Russian shelling rendered the Oskil psychoneurological residential institution “uninhabitable,” Yuriy Shparaga, director of the social services department for the Kharkiv region, said in an interview.

“They have no electricity, they have no heat,” he said.

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At the time of the attack, 330 people were in the facility. No injuries were immediately reported, because staff had brought patients into a shelter after an air alert sounded a warning prior to the attack. The State Emergency Service of Ukraine has organized temporary provision of some electricity and heat.

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Firefighters spray water on a destroyed shoe factory following an airstrike in Dnipro on March 11, 2022.EMRE CAYLAK/AFP/Getty Images

But that is not a permanent solution, and evacuation of patients and staff is needed, Mr. Shparaga said. The facility is located near conflict areas, but not near any military installations, he said.

The attack on a civilian facility amounted to “a war crime against civilians,” Mr. Shparaga wrote on Facebook.

Russia has denied attacking civilian targets in an invasion it has called a campaign to “demilitarize” Ukraine.

But as of Thursday, Russian forces “have killed more Ukrainian civilians than the total number of all military personnel killed in fighting,” Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a video address.

“The Kremlin is bombing schools, hospitals and maternity hospitals,” he said.

At least 70 Ukrainian children have been killed in the war, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. “This aggression is a barbaric crime,” he wrote on Twitter.

More than 2.5 million refugees have left Ukraine, the United Nations said.

Early morning aerial attacks on Friday also damaged airports in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lutsk, both of which had been used by the Ukrainian military. Those strikes brought Russian bombardments within 105 kilometers of Poland and Romania, both NATO member states. Four soldiers died in Lutsk from rockets dropped by a Russian bomber, local administrators said.

Though the extent of the damage was not immediately clear, the Russian Ministry of Defense claims it has now “disabled” 90 per cent of Ukraine’s military airfields, leaving the country with severely weakened air force capabilities. Ukrainian military analysts dispute that figure, pointing to the country’s ongoing success in shooting down Russian aircraft.

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS

The attacks were designed to “sow panic and fear among people, by showing that the invasion has reached the entire country,” said Valentyn Badrak, Director of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies.

But they also revealed Ukrainian military weaknesses.

In Ivano-Frankivsk, Mayor Ruslan Martsinkiv said in a video posted to Facebook that the city’s air alert system had failed. He warned people living close to the airport to “leave their houses” and take cover in bomb shelters. “Lutsk is under attack,” he warned.

At least one person died in another attack on Dnipro, in east-central Ukraine, the first to strike that city. “Kindergarten, residential block, shoe factory gone. 2 people killed,” Lesia Vasylenko, a Ukrainian member of parliament, wrote on Twitter. Further explosions were reported Friday in Kyiv.

The US and UK have provided Javelin and NLAW anti-tank missiles that Ukrainian forces have used to devastating effects. But the attacks Friday showed a need for new forms of armaments in Ukraine, Mr. Badrak said.

“We need weapons to close the sky,” he said. He repeated Ukraine’s request for Polish fighter jets — whose donation through the US has been rejected by the Joe Biden administration — but said other weapons are also needed, including SLAMRAAM surface-to-air missiles.

The UK Ministry of Defense, in an intelligence update, said logistical issues and Ukrainian resistance have “hampered the Russian advance,” but warned that Russian forces were likely to take the next few days to regroup for new offensives. “This will probably include operations against the capital, Kyiv,” it warned.

Russia is moving to reinforce its fighting force in Ukraine with militants from the Middle East, its Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Friday. Russia has already received “more than 16,000 applications,” Mr. Shoigu said.

Russia should help those fighters “move to the war zone,” President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting of the country’s security council. While the Kremlin said those fighters had fought against ISIS, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak accused Moscow of recruiting “ex-ISIS fighters to be used against civilians.”

At the same time, Russia is threatening new measures against Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, after that company told Reuters it would change its hate speech rules to allow posts in some countries calling for “death to the Russian invaders.” The policy change would also permit calls for the death of Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Reuters reported.

That change, if true, “mean that there will have to be the most decisive measures to end the activities of this company,” Kremlin would Dmitry Peskov said.

The Russian Prosecutor General said it would demand the censorship of Instagram in Russia, and had already applied to have Meta recognized as “an extremist organization.”

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