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War in Ukraine | Survivors emerge from Mariupol theater

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(Kyiv) Ukrainian authorities were struggling on Thursday to determine the fate of hundreds of civilians who had taken refuge in the theater in the besieged city of Mariupol which was destroyed by a Russian airstrike, and officials said Russian artillery destroyed other civilian buildings in another frontline town.

Some hope emerged when an official revealed that some people had survived the strike on the Mariupol theater.

A photo released by Mariupol City Council shows an entire section of the three-story grand theater collapsed after Wednesday night’s strike. Several hundred people had taken refuge in the basement of the building, while the Russian army has been besieging this strategic port city on the Sea of ​​Azov for three weeks.


PHOTO VIA AGENCY FRANCE-PRESSE

The Mariupol theater after the strikes.

At least as recently as Monday, the sidewalk in front and behind the theater was adorned with huge white letters spelling “CHILDREN” in Russian, according to images released by space technology company Maxar.


PHOTO MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

The word “CHILDREN” written on the ground in front and behind the Mariupol Theater.

Rubble had blocked the entrance to the shelter inside the theater and the number of casualties was unclear, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional administration, explained on Telegram. Ukrainian MP Sergiy Taruta, the former governor of the Donetsk region where Mariupol is located, later said on Facebook that some people managed to escape alive from the destroyed building. He did not provide further details.

Kyrylenko said Russian airstrikes also hit a municipal swimming pool complex in Mariupol where civilians, including women and children, had taken refuge. “Now there are pregnant women and women with children under the rubble,” he wrote, but the number of victims was not immediately known.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for more help for his country in a video address to German lawmakers on Thursday, saying thousands have been killed in the war that began nearly a month ago, including 108 children.

He also referred to the disastrous situation in Mariupol. “Everything is a target for them,” he said, including “a theater where hundreds of people had taken refuge and which was razed yesterday.”

The Russian Defense Ministry denied bombing the theater or anywhere else in Mariupol on Wednesday.

Zelensky’s office said Russia carried out fresh airstrikes on Mariupol early Thursday morning, as well as artillery and airstrikes across the country overnight, including in the suburbs of Kalynivka and Brovary from the capital, Kyiv. Nothing is known of the number of victims.

In Kyiv, where residents huddled in homes and shelters, a fire broke out in a building hit by the remnants of a Russian rocket shot down early Thursday, killing one person and injuring at least three others, according to emergency services. Firefighters evacuated 30 people from the upper floors of the 16-story building and extinguished the blaze within an hour.

On Thursday, Russian artillery destroyed a school and a community center in Merefa, a town near Kharkiv in the northeast of the country, according to the mayor of Merefa, Veniamin Sitov. There were no known civilian casualties. The Kharkiv region comes under heavy shelling as pinned down Russian forces try to advance in the area.

Six nations have called for a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Thursday afternoon, ahead of an expected vote on Friday on a Russian resolution demanding protection for Ukrainian civilians “in vulnerable situations,” without mentioning the responsibility of Moscow in the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin went on television Wednesday to castigate Russians who do not support him.

Russians “will always be able to distinguish true patriots from garbage and traitors and just spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths,” he said. I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country. »

He said the West is using a “fifth column” of traitorous Russians to create civil unrest. “And there’s only one goal, I’ve already talked about it – the destruction of Russia,” he said.

The speech appeared to be a warning that his authoritarian rule, which had already grown stronger since the invasion began on February 24, shutting down Russian news outlets and arresting protesters, could become even more repressive.

In a sign of this, Russian law enforcement announced the first known criminal cases under a new law that allows for 15-year prison sentences for publishing what is considered “false information” about the war in Ukraine. Among those charged was Veronika Belotserkovskaya, a Russian-language cookbook author and blogger living abroad.

Talks between the two sides still seem to be progressing. Zelensky’s adviser, Mikhailo Podolyak, said Ukraine had demanded a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees for Ukraine from several countries.

“This is only possible through direct dialogue” between MM. Zelensky and Putin, he launched on Twitter.

An official in Mr Zelensky’s office told The Associated Press that the main topic of discussion was whether Russian troops would remain in breakaway areas of eastern Ukraine after the war and where the borders would be. .

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, said Ukraine insisted on the inclusion of one or more Western nuclear powers in the negotiations and on a legally binding document with safeguards security for Ukraine. In exchange, the official said, Ukraine was ready to discuss a neutral status.

Russia demanded that NATO pledge never to admit Ukraine into the alliance or station forces there.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Zelensky appeared before the US Congress via video and, citing Pearl Harbor and 9/11, pleaded with America for more weapons and tougher sanctions on Russia, saying “We need you now”.

President Joe Biden has announced that the United States is sending US$800 million in military aid to Ukraine. He also called Mr Putin a “war criminal”, in his harshest condemnation since the start of the invasion.

The fighting has driven more than three million people to flee Ukraine, according to UN estimates. The death toll remains unknown, although Ukraine said thousands of civilians lost their lives.

Nowhere has suffered more than the beleaguered town of Mariupol, where local officials say missile strikes and shelling have killed more than 2,300 people. The southern seaport of 430,000 people has been under attack almost since the start of the war three weeks ago, and the siege has caused severe shortages of food, water, heating and medicine.

Using his cellphone’s flashlight to illuminate a hospital basement, Dr. Valeriy Drengar pulled back a blanket to reveal the body of a 22-day-old baby. Other wrapped bodies also appeared to be children.

“These are the people we couldn’t save,” said Dr Drengar.

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