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U.S. warns of Russian chemical weapons attack; Mariupol buries dead in mass graves

The besieged city of Mariupol has been without electricity, heat, water or food for many days and Ukrainian officials have called the situation there catastrophic.
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Ukrainian officials on Wednesday accused Russia of destroying a children’s hospital in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, as efforts continue to evacuate civilians from areas worst hit by Russia’s almost two-week-old invasion.

The head of Ukraine's Donetsk region said 17 people were wounded in the attack, including staff and mothers in the maternity ward. There were no immediate reports of injured children or deaths.

In the southeastern port city of Mariupol, meanwhile, workers began burying scores of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers in a mass grave after days of bombardment.

In the United States, officials warned that Russia could try to justify the invasion by launching a chemical or biological weapons attack — and blaming it on Ukraine. The warning came after a Russian official said the country was preparing to use poisonous substances in the war, a claim White House press secretary Jen Psaki called “preposterous.”

The Biden Administration also said it would not participate in a Polish offer to provide jets to Ukraine by way of a U.S. base in Germany. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the proposal would give the country “little increased capabilities at a high risk.”

Ukrainian biathlete pulls out of event after father captured by Russian forces

Ukrainian biathlete Anastasiia Laletina was forced to pull out of the middle distance sitting event at the Beijing Winter Paralympics on Tuesday after her father was captured by Russian forces, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian paralympic committee told Reuters.

Laletina's father is a soldier in the Ukrainian army. The spokesperson said they had no further details on his capture.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine last month, which Moscow describes as a "special operation" to disarm the country, prompted the International Paralympic Committee to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Games

U.N. warns of risk of gender-based violence, sexual abuse as more than 2M flee Ukraine

The United Nations' humanitarian affairs office has warned of the risk of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse as hundreds of thousands of people flee Ukraine. 

In a situation report on the humanitarian impact of Russia's invasion in Ukraine, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that with more than two million people forced to flee Ukraine, the situation was "generating evergrowing protection risks." 

It said that the possibility of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse were among those risks "as the majority of people on the move are women and children." 

UNICEF has said that of the more than two million people who have already fled Ukraine, around half are believed to be children.

"Persistent challenges in accessing basic goods and services and lack of access to safe shelter leave women and girls extremely vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and violence," OCHA said in its situation report.

The U.N. body said that while specialized services, including gender-based violence hotlines, had been reported to remain partially functional, it said access was "extremely limited for both staff and survivors due to the ongoing hostilities and movement restrictions." 

'Relentless shelling' causing major destruction across Ukraine, U.N. agency says

As fighting continues across Ukraine "relentless shelling" is causing major damage and destruction across the country, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has warned.

In addition to the rising number of deaths, the office said in a report Tuesday night that the "destruction of civilian objects continues to be reported."

"According to the Government of Ukraine, relentless shelling across the country has damaged or destroyed more than 210 schools, at least 34 hospitals and more than 1,500 residential buildings, figures that continue to climb with each passing day," its report said. 

The report said Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has called on on all parties of the conflict to "allow the safe passage of civilians out of hardest-hit areas and safe delivery of humanitarian supplies into those areas"

Family and friends lay flowers on Ukrainian soldier's grave

Men dig graves for Ukrainian soldiers Ivan Koverznev and Viktor Dudar, who were both killed on March 2 in the war launched by Russia, at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv on Tuesday.
Men dig graves for soldiers at the Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv on Tuesday.Oksana Parafeniuk / NBC News
Family members and friends put flowers on the grave of a Ukrainian soldier Ivan Koverznev at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv on Tuesday.
Family members and friends are seen putting flowers on the grave of Ukrainian soldier Ivan Koverznev, who was killed on March 2.Oksana Parafeniuk / NBC News

IMF considers $1.4 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine

The International Monetary Fund will consider approving $1.4 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine on Wednesday.

“We have sent to our executive board a proposal they will consider for approval tomorrow for $1.4 billion in support for Ukraine, to help it cope with the shock caused by this war,” Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Tuesday.

This aid is in addition to a separate $700 million payment agreed in December. Georgieva said the IMF had also provided a $2.7 billion Special Drawing Rights allocation — a supplement to its official reserves — that has come in “very handy” to Ukraine.

IMF said it was increasing contact with Ukraine and said talks were ongoing despite the “sirens that can be heard even as discussions go on".

Russian forces fail to advance in Kyiv, British defense ministry says

Russian forces continued to shell major Ukrainian cities but have yet to make significant breakthroughs in the capital of Kyiv, according to the British defense ministry.

"Fighting north-west of Kyiv remains ongoing," the ministry said in an intelligence update published Wednesday. 

The Ukrainian air defense system has also held up against Russia's aerial forces, preventing them from achieving "any degree of control of the air," the ministry said. 

However, the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled and are suffering heavy Russian shelling, it said.

Air alert declared in Kyiv

An air alert was declared Wednesday morning in and around Kyiv, with residents urged to get to bomb shelters as quickly as possible.

“Kyiv region – air alert. Threat of a missile attack. Everyone immediately to shelters,” regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram.

Nearly two weeks into the invasion, Russian troops have advanced deep along Ukraine’s coastline. The city of Mariupol, which sits on the Azov Sea, has been surrounded by Russian soldiers for days and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the encircled city of 430,000

For days, as Moscow’s forces have laid siege to Ukrainian cities, attempts to create corridors to safely evacuate civilians have stumbled amid continuing fighting.

Across the country, thousands of people are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, in nearly two weeks of fighting. Russian forces have seen their advances stopped in certain areas — including around Kyiv, the capital, — by fiercer resistance than expected from the Ukrainians.