Russia on Thursday denied carrying out an airstrike on a maternity ward in the besieged city of Mariupol, a day after it justified the attack by claiming that Ukraine had set up a combat position at the hospital.

Commenting on the alleged attack on Thursday, Major General Igor Konashenkov, the spokesperson for the Russian defence ministry, accused Ukrainian defence forces of rigging the hospital with explosives, and described it as a “staged provocation to incite anti-Russian agitation in the West.”

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Major General Konashenkov’s comment on Thursday, however, appears to contradict that of foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, who, on Wednesday, accused Ukraine of converting the hospital into a combat position, effectively justifying the alleged Russian airstrike.

“…[In] Mariupol, the Ukrainian national battalions, having expelled the staff and patients from the maternity hospital, equipped combat positions in it,” Zakharova was quoted as saying by CNN, hours before the airstrike took place.

The strike on the maternity hospital on Wednesday killed three people, including a child, and wounded 17 others.

The latest in a series of claims about Russian attacks on civilians, the maternity ward airstrike sparked global outrage, with many accusing Russia of committing war crimes.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky also condemned the attack on the maternity ward, saying, “Children`s hospital? Maternity ward? Why were they a threat to Russian Federation? What kind of country is the Russian Federation that is afraid of hospitals, afraid of maternity wards and destroys them?”

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“Today I am asking the global community for help. Close the sky over Ukraine. Our will has not been broken, we will fight to the end. We have motivated soldiers and officers who defend our homeland. But today we need support. What happened at the children’s hospital is pure evil,” the 44-year-old added in an impassioned plea for help.

However, despite Zelensky’s pleas, the West has ruled out the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, and the US has also, up until now, refused to facilitate the transfer of fighter jets to Ukraine via Poland.