Russia's war in Ukraine entered the third week on Thursday with none of its stated objectives reached despite thousands of people killed, more than two million made refugees, and thousands forced to cower in besieged cities under relentless bombardment.
Ukraine said Russia was carrying out "genocide" by bombing a children's hospital in the city of Mariupol. Russia said the reports were "fake news" as the building was a former maternity hospital that had long been taken over by troops.
Moscow's stated objectives of crushing the Ukrainian military and ousting the pro-West elected government of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy remained out of reach, with Zelenskiy unshaken and Western military aid pouring across the Polish and Romanian borders.
The UK Defence Ministry said on Thursday that a large Russian column northwest of Kyiv had made little progress in over a week and was suffering continued losses. It added that as casualties mount, Russian President Vladimir Putin would have to draw from across the armed forces to replace the losses.
Putin has said the advance by his forces in Ukraine was going according to plan and to schedule. Russia calls its incursion a "special operation" to disarm its neighbour and dislodge leaders it calls "neo-Nazis."
Western-led sanctions designed to cut the Russian economy and government from international financial markets were also beginning to bite, with the Russian share market and rouble plunging and ordinary Russians rushing to hoard cash.
Zelenskiy accused Russia of carrying out "genocide" after Ukrainian officials said Russian aircraft bombed a children's hospital on Wednesday, burying patients in rubble despite a ceasefire deal for people to flee Mariupol.
"What kind of country is this, the Russian Federation, which is afraid of hospitals, is afraid of maternity hospitals, and destroys them?" Zelenskiy said in a televised address late on Wednesday.
The attack, which authorities said injured women in labour and left children in the wreckage, underscored U.S. warnings that the biggest assault on a European state since 1945 could become increasingly attritional after Russia's early failures.
The White House condemned the hospital bombing as a "barbaric use of military force to go after innocent civilians".
"That’s how fake news is born," Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia's first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said on Twitter.
Russia had earlier pledged to halt firing so at least some trapped civilians could escape Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands have been sheltering without water or power for more than a week. Both sides blamed the other for the failure of the evacuation.
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HOLES WHERE WINDOWS WERE
Ukraine's foreign ministry posted video footage of what it said was the hospital showing holes where windows should have been in a three-storey building. Huge piles of smouldering rubble littered the scene.
The Donetsk region's governor said 17 people were wounded in the attack. The U.N. Human Rights body said it was trying to verify the number of casualties at Mariupol. The incident "adds to our deep concerns about indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas," it added through a spokesperson.
Among more than 2 million total refugees from Ukraine, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday that more than 1 million children have fled the country since the invasion started on Feb 24. At least 37 had been killed and 50 injured, it said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said houses had been destroyed all across Ukraine. "Hundreds of thousands of people have no food, no water, no heat, no electricity and no medical care," it said.
FIRST RUSSIA/UKRAINE TALKS
Foreign ministers from Russia and Ukraine will meet in Turkey on Thursday in the first high-level talks between the two countries since Moscow invaded its neighbour, with Ankara hoping they could mark a turning point in the raging conflict.
"I will say frankly that my expectations of the talks are low," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a video statement on Wednesday.
Ukraine is seeking a ceasefire, liberation of its territories and to resolve all humanitarian issues, Kuleba said.
Moscow demands that Kyiv take a neutral position and drop aspirations of joining the NATO alliance.
Zelenskiy repeated his call for the West to tighten sanctions on Russia "so that they sit down at the negotiating table and end this brutal war".
He told VICE in an interview on Wednesday that he was confident Putin would at some stage agree to talks. "I think he will. I think he sees that we are strong. He will. We need some time," he said.
Russia has been hit by Western sanctions and the withdrawals of foreign firms, the latest including Nestle, cigarette maker Philip Morris and Sony.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to rush $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine, sending the legislation to the Senate.
A majority of the U.S. House of Representatives also voted to impose a ban on imports of Russian oil and other energy products in retaliation for Moscow's ongoing attack on Ukraine.
The World Bank's chief economist said Moscow was edging close to defaulting on its debt.