Vice President Harris says US is ‘prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory’: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

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The U.S. commitment to NATO and defense of its members is “ironclad” and America is deeply appreciative of Poland’s efforts to aid refugees fleeing the carnage in Ukraine, Vice President Kamala Harris said Thursday in Poland.

“This is a moment that requires severe and swift consequences for Russian aggression against Ukraine,” Harris said during a joint news conference in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda. “What is at stake, this very moment, are some of the guiding principles around the NATO alliance.”

The meeting came after the Biden administration rejected a plan from Poland to provide fighter jets to Ukraine. And despite repeated pleas from Ukrainian leaders, U.S. defense officials also have distanced themselves from military requests that the White House believes would run the risk of escalating the conflict: A NATO-backed no-fly zone over Ukraine and any plans to funnel jets to Ukraine.

“The U.S. commitment to Article 5 is ironclad,” Harris said, referencing the principle of mutual defense that is the bedrock of the transatlantic military alliance. “The U.S. is prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory.”

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VISUALS: Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Harris also announced two promised Patriot missile systems have been delivered to Poland.

In addition, Harris said the United States will provide $50 million in humanitarian aid, saying the excess amount of refugees has “put an extraordinary burden on Poland and the people of Poland.” The country has accepted more than 1.4 million Ukrainian refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We will continue with the support that we can give you, Mr. President, in terms of the work that you and the people of Poland have been doing to bear this burden,” Harris said.

Latest developments:

►The Biden administration warned Wednesday that Russia may be signaling its intention to further escalate the conflict. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said recent Russian statements have led to concerns it could use “chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them.”

►The U.S. ratcheted up economic pressure on Russia: The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to write into law a ban on U.S. imports of Russian oil and energy products that President Joe Biden imposed to punish Moscow. It also passed $13.6 billion in aid money to Ukraine as part of a larger spending bill.

►Ukraine’s foreign minister says he discussed a 24-hour cease-fire with his Russian counterpart but didn’t make progress. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Turkey on Thursday, the highest level meeting between both sides before the start of the conflict. 

►The World Health Organization said it has confirmed 18 attacks on medical facilities since the Russian invasion began.

Harris: UN will investigate Russian assault on hospital

Harris said Russia’s airstrikes on hospitals were “atrocities of unimaginable proportion” and said the United Nations has a process to review and investigate to investigate such attacks. Harris noted that “the eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of this aggression and these atrocities.”

Ukraine said Russian bombs severely damaged a maternity and children’s hospital complex in the besieged city of Mariupol on Wednesday, killing at least three people including a child and wounding at least 17 more. Other hospitals also have been hit, the Ukraine government says.

“Russians are committing war crimes,” Polish President Duda said. “I hope that also in the future, it will be obvious for a court investigating those issues who bears responsibility for that.”

Duda said that the proof of Russia’s atrocities are in media reports, as well as videos found on people’s smartphones.

“If you look at those footages, it just makes your blood curl,” he said. “Sad scenes are happening today and they have been happening over the last days in Ukraine and their perpetrators are Russians.”

Russia says ‘extremists’ were housed at hospital

The hospital complex in Mariupol had been emptied of patients and was being used by extremists as their base, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday. He said Russia informed the U.N. that there were neither patients nor medical personnel left at the maternity hospital in Mariupol.

“This is not the first time when we see pathetic cries about so-called atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces” Lavrov said. “Our delegation presented facts at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council proving that the maternity hospital had long been seized by fighters of the Azov battalion and other radicals. They kicked all patients, all nurses, and all service personnel out.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, however, has said the building was a hospital and that “people, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity!”

Suffering increases for Ukrainians

Ukrainian leaders say civilians are increasingly suffering and dying as Russia’s assault on Ukraine enters its third week. Multiple hospitals have been shelled, more than 2.3 million people have fled the country and more are struggling to leave. On the outskirts of Kyiv, hundreds of residents in towns occupied by Russian troops fled Wednesday. Some said they hadn’t eaten in days, while others told harrowing tales of war.

“Occupiers came to our house and they were ready to shoot us,” said Iuliia Bushinska, a Vorzel resident. “They took away our house, our car, they took away our documents. So we need to start our life from the beginning. We survived things that I never experienced in my life.”

3 dead after Russian strike on Ukraine maternity hospital in Mariupol

A Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol killed three people, including a child, and left 17 people wounded on Wednesday, the latest attack against civilians as the Kremlin continues its assault on Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy tweeted that Russian troops had made a “direct strike” on the maternity hospital. He called it an “atrocity” and said: “People, children are under the wreckage.”

“How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity.”

The attack on the hospital complex in Mariupol drew widespread condemnation from advocates for refugees and humanitarian aid. Read more here. 

– Rick Rouan, Joey Garrison and Maureen Groppe

US citizens among those volunteering to fight in Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given the smaller nation’s embassy in Washington an unexpected role: recruitment center for Americans who want to join the fight.

Diplomats working out of the embassy, in a townhouse in the Georgetown section of the city, are fielding thousands of offers from volunteers seeking to fight for Ukraine, even as they work on the far more pressing matter of securing weapons to defend against an increasingly brutal Russian onslaught.

“They really feel that this war is unfair, unprovoked,” said Ukraine’s military attaché, Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi. “They feel that they have to go and help.”

U.S. volunteers represent just a small subset of foreigners seeking to fight for Ukraine, who in turn comprise just a tiny fraction of the international assistance that has flowed into the country. Still, it is a reflection of the passion, supercharged in an era of social media, that the attack and the mounting civilian casualties have stirred.

“This is not mercenaries who are coming to earn money,” Kremenetskyi said. “This is people of goodwill who are coming to assist Ukraine to fight for freedom.”

The U.S. government discourages Americans from going to fight in Ukraine, which raises legal and national security issues.

– The Associated Press