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U.S. to provide more air defenses after missile strike on Kyiv children’s hospital

Rescue workers and volunteers search for survivors and clear debris at Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital in Kyiv on Monday. MUST CREDIT: Alice Martins for The Washington Post  (Alice Martins/For The Washington Post)
By Francesca Ebel,Anastacia Galouchka and Rachel Pannett Washington Post

KYIV – The United States and its allies have agreed to provide additional air defenses to Ukraine following devastating Russian missile attacks Monday that killed at least 38 people across Ukraine and destroyed a Kyiv children’s hospital.

On the first day of a NATO summit in Washington, President Biden unveiled plans to provide Ukraine with dozens of tactical air defense systems to protect Ukrainian cities, including Patriot batteries and components and other advanced defense systems.

“I am grateful to our partners – the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Romania – for adopting a strong declaration in support of Ukraine’s air defense system to protect its people, cities, and critical infrastructure,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a social media post as he joined the NATO summit. “Russia’s air terror against Ukrainians, including yesterday’s brutal strike on the children’s hospital, must be met with unity and strength.”

The attacks had also prompted Zelensky to request a lifting of restrictions on the use of U.S. weapons to strike targets on Russian territory that have put key air bases out of reach. Zelensky said his military needs to be able to hit Russian planes where they are housed and get rearmed with new missiles.

The Biden administration so far is refusing to loosen those restrictions beyond allowing strikes in border areas where Russian forces are planning imminent attacks.

According to Ukrainian authorities, 33 of 44 missiles were intercepted during Monday’s attack.

Those that penetrated the country’s air defenses brought death and fiery havoc, including in Kyiv, where two people were killed at the Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital, as well as in the cities of Dnipro and Kryvyi Rih. More than 70 people were wounded.

In emotional testimony to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, the hospital’s director, Volodymyr Zhovnir, described “complete hell” as ceilings collapsed and people screamed for help.

“At 10:42 a.m., we heard a powerful explosion – the ground shook, and the walls trembled. Children and adults began to scream and cry from fear,” Zhovnir said. “Three complex surgeries were being performed. Children were on IVs, on dialysis and in intensive care. What happened put their lives at risk.”

Daria Chechylo, Okhmatdyt’s press officer, said in an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday that when the first explosion hit she immediately ran to the bomb shelter. Another deafening explosion then shook the ceiling so violently that Chechylo said she thought it would collapse.

When Chechylo left the shelter, she said, she confronted an apocalyptic scene of billowing smoke, blown out windows and children covered in blood.

“I didn’t feel anything except for absolute horror,” she said, her voice cracking. “To hit a place where children are healing? I couldn’t believe that they had actually shelled the biggest children’s hospital in Ukraine.”

The barrage occurred just a day before the NATO leaders gathered. Although the United States and some other NATO countries have refused to fast–track membership in the alliance for Ukraine, many have signed bilateral security agreements with Kyiv promising ongoing aid.

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed Monday that it carried out a massive air assault on Ukrainian cities, but senior officials in Moscow continued to insist that their targets were strictly military and they denied responsibility for the strike on the hospital.

Investigators from the Ukraine’s State Security Service, or SBU, said that the hospital had been hit by a Russian Kh–101 high–precision cruise missile. Video and photos of Monday’s attack appeared to show a Kh–101 missile striking the building.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the destruction of the hospital a “tragedy” but blamed it on a NATO–provided NASAMS missile – an assertion for which she provided no evidence.

“Attempts by the Zelensky regime to use the tragedy with the children’s hospital in Kyiv for propaganda confirm its inhuman nature,” Zakharova said.

At the Security Council meeting, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, also blamed Ukraine. “They claim that the enemy intentionally targeted children,” he said of Ukraine, “although everyone knows that the rocket was accidentally shot down.”

Nebenzya said Ukraine was pushing false propaganda on the eve of the NATO summit,” to divert attention from other issues” including “why military facilities are located so close to residential areas and hospitals.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Moscow does not strike civilian targets – though countless residential apartment buildings, hospitals, theaters and other civilian structures have been damaged and destroyed since Russia’s invasion in 2022. In some cases, entire cities have been laid waste.

“I urge you to be guided by the statement of the Ministry of Defense, which absolutely rules out that the strike was on civilian targets and states that it was the fall of an antimissile,” Peskov said.

Yuriy Ignat, head of the press office of Ukraine’s air force, said Russia has modernized its missiles and drones to make them less detectable, and that Russia had multiplied its use of ballistic missiles over the past three months. Some missiles have recently been equipped with radar and thermal traps, he said.

“During today’s strike, the cruise missiles flew at extremely low altitudes, combat work on them was carried out in some places at a height of up to 50 meters, which of course can also lead to terrible consequences on the ground,” Ignat wrote in a detailed Facebook post Monday.

Karolina Hird, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a research group based in Washington, said Monday’s attack was “another very painful example” that Ukraine does not have enough Western–made systems to defend its cities.

Hird, in an interview, said that Ukraine needs the consistent provision of Patriot interceptor missiles and systems. “I hope that this attack spurs realization that Patriots are absolutely critical,” she said.

Hird said that with Russia developing new tactics to maximize the damage of its airstrikes, Ukraine must be able to adapt, as it did in response to Russian attacks using Iranian–made Shahed drones last year.

“We have seen Ukraine adapt to previous shifts in Russia’s tactics,” Hird said. “We have seen Ukraine innovating its air defenses domestically, but this takes time, and they need help sooner.”

The attack on Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital, a flagship cancer center, killed a doctor and another adult and destroyed a dialysis unit. Eight children were hospitalized with injuries.

According to Ukraine’s Health Ministry, there were 627 children being treated in the hospital at the time of the attack. Nearly 100 other patients were evacuated to other hospitals in Kyiv and some were awaiting transfer abroad; while 68 children remained in the surviving buildings of Okhmatdyt for treatment. The rest were discharged home.

“We will have serious long–term consequences for the medical field regarding the treatment of children,” Zhovnir, the hospital director, said. “Patients will not receive proper care.”

Three bodies were uncovered Tuesday morning from the debris of a residential building that was also hit in Monday’s attack, bringing the total death toll in the capital to 11.

After Monday’s attack, the White House reiterated that it would not further loosen restrictions on Ukraine striking targets within Russian territory using U.S.–provided weapons. John Kirby, a spokesman, said that U.S. weapons may only be used to strike border areas inside Russia where Moscow’s forces may be preparing imminent attacks on Ukraine.

Zelensky said that his nation urgently needed more than sympathy from its backers and to be cleared to strike Russian military aircraft on their bases.

“Mere concern does not stop the terror. Condolences are not a weapon,” Zelensky wrote in a statement Monday. “We need to shoot down Russian missiles. We must destroy Russian combat aircraft where they are based. Strong steps must be taken to eliminate any security deficit. … Our partners are capable of making this happen. Decisions are needed as soon as possible.”