Ukraine says Russian strike destroyed children’s hospital; US warns Putin may launch chemical weapons attack

Olena Dovzhenko told NBC News that she and her husband joined a convoy of cars driving to Kyiv on Sunday to escape an increasingly desperate situation in Irpin. Their convoy was shot and her husband sustained multiple injuries, she said. She added that she watched several people in their group die.

“He is so young,” Dovzhenko, 19, said of her husband, who is in grave condition. “It’s a scary situation.”

NBC News has not verified details of those killed or injured.

Ukraine’s defense outside Kyiv held off Russian troops’ attempts to advance, Britain’s defense ministry said in its latest update. But forces encircling other major cities, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol, have subjected residents to heavy shelling.

Russian troops have made some progress in the south, advancing along the coast and threatening to establish a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukraine’s surprising ability to prevent Russia from controlling the air has helped dent the advance, though the last week has seen intensifying Russian attacks on major cities and residential areas.

In its intelligence update, Britain’s defense ministry said that Ukraine appears “to have enjoyed considerable success against Russia’s modern combat aircraft, probably preventing them achieving any degree of control of the air.”

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Wednesday that his government would send anti-aircraft weapons and Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. The Russians are “changing their tactics, and so the Ukrainians need to, too” Wallace told British lawmakers.

Zelenskyy has called on the West to enact a no-fly zone over the country, something the United States and NATO have rejected, fearing it could escalate the conflict into a broader war on the continent.

Soviet-era jets

Washington and Europe have instead focused on punishing Putin for the invasion and backing the government in Kyiv that he was almost certainly hoping to remove and replace with a regime friendlier to the Kremlin.

But there was a rare sign of disunity in that effort Tuesday.

The Defense Department rejected what it said was an unexpected offer by Poland to have the US take custody of Soviet-era fighter jets that would likely then be transferred to Ukraine.

The Biden administration on Wednesday ruled out the transfer, saying it would be a “high risk” step that could ratchet up tensions with Russia, the Pentagon said.

Poland had offered to donate Soviet-era MiG 29 aircraft to Ukraine via a US air base in Germany, but Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Polish counterpart, Mariusz Błaszczak, that the US opposed the proposal, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

In a phone call with the Polish defense minister, Austin “stressed that we do not support the transfer of additional fighter aircraft to the Ukrainian air force at this time, and therefore have no desire to see them in our custody, either,” Kirby said .

The US has said it would support Poland’s or another NATO member’s sending jets to Ukraine but has given no indication it would act as an intermediary, with countries eager to avoid becoming too closely embroiled in the conflict.

Zelenskyy pushed for his two allies to quickly reach an agreement to supply his country with aircraft.

“It’s not a ping pong game – it’s human lives we’re talking about,” he said in a speech posted to Telegram.

Vice President Kamala Harris was visiting Warsaw on Wednesday in a previously scheduled trip to NATO ally that has taken in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

US officials estimated that 2,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers had been killed thus far. On Wednesday, Russia’s defense ministry acknowledged that some conscripts were taking part in the conflict after multiple denials by Putin, who said only professional soldiers had been sent in.

The ministry said that some of them had been taken prisoner by the Ukrainian army, according to Reuters.

Nuclear power plant concerns

Ukrainian officials expressed alarm Wednesday about a loss of power at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

The site was disconnected from the power grid, according to officials, who blamed the situation on the Russian military and urged a cease-fire in the area to allow crews to restore power.

The IAEA said in a tweet that it saw “no critical impact on safety,” though the development violated a “key safety pillar.”

It was unclear what exactly caused the damage. NBC News has reached out to the Russian government for comment.

Reserve diesel generators were able to power the plant for 48 hours, Kuleba tweeted.

“After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent,” he said. The IAEA said, however, that there was enough cooling water at the site to prevent the spent fuel from overheating without the need for power.

The agency also said it had lost data transmission to monitor nuclear material at the site and Zaporizhzhia, which is home to Europe’s largest nuclear plant that Russian forces took control of last week. Operating staff have been held hostage for four days, according to Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko.

“There are about 500 Russian soldiers and 50 units of heavy equipment inside the station,” he said in a Facebook post, adding that the workers have been left “physically and psychologically exhausted.”

An attack on the plant last week sparked a brief fire and fears of a nuclear meltdown.

Anastasiia Parafeniuk, Courtney Cube, Reuters, Yuliya Talmazan, Mithil Aggarwal, Phil Helsel spirit Teaganne Finn contributed.

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