Harris supports war crimes investigation of Russian bombing of Ukrainian hospital
Vice President Kamala Harris said Thursday that Russia’s bombing of a civilian hospital in Ukraine should be investigated as a potential war crime, becoming the highest-level U.S. official to condemn an attack that has drawn worldwide outrage and ratcheted up calls for Moscow to back off its all-out invasion.
The vice president said she was shocked when she saw news coverage of carnage from the maternity hospital in the southern city of Mariupol, saying the Kremlin should be held accountable more broadly for its “aggression and atrocities” in its 2-week-old invasion of Ukraine.
For the record:
8:42 p.m. March 10, 2022An earlier version of this report misspelled the last name of International Criminal Court chief investigator Karim Khan as Kahn. It also mistakenly called Poland and Romania former Soviet republics.
“Just limited to what we have seen: Pregnant women going for healthcare being injured by — I don’t know — a missile, a bomb in an unprovoked, unjustified war,” Harris said during a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda at the Belweder Palace in Warsaw.
Ukrainian authorities say they identified the routes for civilians’ safe passage in a deal with Moscow. Previous cease-fires also have mostly failed.
Speaking through an interpreter, Duda called the bombing “an act of barbarity bearing the features of a genocide.” Harris’ call for an investigation came in response to a question from a Polish reporter over whether the attack should face a war crimes inquiry.
Widely circulated images of the bombing emerged on Wednesday: In one, emergency responders carry a bloodied pregnant woman through a courtyard littered with mangled cars; in another, a heavily damaged building is still smoldering.
The State Department has said Russian attacks in Ukraine probably constitute war crimes and it is documenting acts of violence for any future investigations. The International Criminal Court said it has dispatched a team to the region, and its chief investigator, Karim Khan, said there was “reasonable basis” to believe war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in the war.
The joint news conference was intended to highlight Harris’ two-day trip to Eastern Europe to convey unity among member countries on NATO’s eastern flank. Harris is meeting with the leaders of Poland and Romania over the next two days. The two countries, which border Ukraine and were former Soviet satellites, have expressed unease over Russia’s intentions.
Vice President Kamala Harris visits former Soviet satellites Poland and Romania to reassure them of U.S., NATO protection and support on refugees.
Pressed by reporters, Harris and Duda had to address a rare crack in the diplomatic relationship over whether and how to send Polish fighter jets to Ukraine.
Duda’s government on Tuesday caught U.S. officials off-guard by announcing a plan to transfer the planes to U.S. control for delivery to Ukraine, a move that risks escalating Russia’s aggression. The U.S. ultimately rebuffed the offer, saying there was no way to safely get the planes into Ukraine. Russia had said that such a move would be considered an act of war.
Duda said at the news conference that his country was trying to balance its own desire to help Ukraine with its broader obligation to consult with allies in the 30-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“There were requests addressed to us. Those requests were addressed to us by the Ukrainian side and also, to a certain extent, by the media,” he said, adding that “we decided to put those jets at the disposal of NATO, not expecting anything in return.”
Harris tried to glide over the issue. “I want to be very clear,” she said. “The United States and Poland are united in what we have done and are prepared to do to help Ukraine.”
Refugees fleeing Ukraine has topped more than 3 million: A photojournalist’s perspective
Almost 800,000 Ukrainians have fled to Poland as Russian forces push farther into Ukraine.
As part of her visit, Harris announced the U.S. would spend an additional $53 million on humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Duda said his country has now absorbed almost 1.5 million people, mostly in the last 10 days.
The Polish president said he told Harris in their private meeting “in a very blunt way that today we are in a refugee crisis.”
“Never before have we witnessed such a situation,” he said, adding that his country needs expert help from the United Nations as well, given the complicated logistics involved. Without more assistance from allies, “this will wind up in a refugee disaster.”
He said he also pressed for the U.S. to absorb more refugees by easing the way for Ukrainians who have American relatives to stay with them while the war rages. Harris said most refugees have said they want to stay in Europe. She offered no new commitments on that front.
Harris, whose hotel is across the street from a train station that has become a staging ground for thousands of Ukrainians, met with a small group of displaced people at an American school here after speaking with Duda.
“We are here to support you,” she said to the seven people sitting around horseshoe-shaped desks. “And you are not alone. And I know there’s so much about the experience that you’ve had that has made you feel alone.”
Reporters were ushered out before she began listening to their stories. Harris later met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is also in Warsaw.
Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this report.
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our politics team.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.