300 Killed in Airstrike on Theater in Mariupol: Officials

(KHARKIV, Ukraine) — About 300 people died in a Russian airstrike last week on a theater being used as a bomb shelter in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city’s government said Friday, citing eyewitnesses.

When the theater was struck March 16, an enormous inscription reading “CHILDREN” was posted outside in Russian, intended to be visible from the skies above.

It wasn’t immediately known if emergency workers had cleared the area or how eyewitnesses reached the terrible death toll. Soon after the airstrike, Ludmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian Parliament’s human rights commissioner, said more than 1,300 people had been sheltering in the building.

Mariupol has been the scene of some of the worst devastation of the war, which has seen Russia relentlessly besiege and pummel Ukraine’s cities. Their misery is so severe that virtually everyone who is able to is trying leave.

The majority of the elderly came to Kharkiv to get food and other supplies. The capital Kyiv is seeing the remains of many deceased people pile up at the main crematoria, as so many family members have moved on, leaving empty urns.

The days of prosperity in Ukraine are quickly becoming a distant memory for civilians who cannot join the flow of Ukrainian refugees.

With Ukrainian soldiers battling Russia’s invasion force to a near stalemate in many places and the president urging people to remain steadfast, the U.S. and the European Union announced a move to further squeeze Russia: a new partnership to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian energy and slowly squeeze off the billions of dollars the Kremlin gets from sales of fossil fuels.

Ukraine’s war on hunger is being increasingly represented in the form of precious food. One block of cheese goes a great distance.

Fidgeting with anticipation, a young girl in Kharkiv watched intently this week as a volunteer’s knife cut through a giant slab of cheese, carving out thick slices — one for each hungry person waiting stoically in line.

Hanna Spitsyna handled the distribution of the food aid of the Ukrainian Red Cross to her neighbors. Each got a lump of the cheese that was cut under the child’s watchful gaze, dropped chunk by chunk into plastic bags that people in line held open like hungry mouths.

“They brought us aid, brought us aid for the elderly women that stayed here,” Spitsyna said. “All these people need diapers, swaddle blankets and food.”

Russian forces cannot sweep at lightning speed into Kyiv. This was their goal on February 24th when the Kremlin began the war.

Foggy fog covered Kharkiv’s outskirts Friday morning, and shelling was constant throughout the day. A few wounded soldiers were found in a hospital. They had bullet wounds and shrapnel injuries. This happened just a day after the doctors treated more than a dozen civilians. Even though doctors managed to stabilize the worst case, there was still a lot of sound from the hospital’s surgery ward.

Russia’s military claimed Friday that it destroyed a massive Ukrainian fuel base used to supply the Kyiv region’s defenses, with ships firing a salvo of cruise missiles, according to the Interfax news agency. Social media videos showed a huge fireball explosion close to the capital.

The misery is becoming unrelenting for civilians. Like other cities in Ukraine, Kyiv has had its population drastically reduced by the massive refugee crisis. More than 10,000,000 people have been displaced, and at least 3 million are fleeing their country. Since the beginning of war, more than 260 civilians died in the capital and 80 buildings were destroyed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged his country to keep up its military defense and not stop “even for a minute.” Zelenskyy used his nightly video address on Thursday to rally Ukrainians to “move toward peace, move forward.”

“With every day of our defense, we are getting closer to the peace that we need so much. … We can’t stop even for a minute, for every minute determines our fate, our future, whether we will live.” He said thousands of people, including 128 children, died in the first month of the war. In the entire country, over 230 schools were destroyed and more than 155 kindergartens lost their foundations. Cities and villages “lie in ashes,” he said.

At an emergency NATO summit in Brussels Thursday, Zelenskyy pleaded with the Western allies via video for planes, tanks, rockets, air defense systems and other weapons, saying his country is “defending our common values.”

In a video address to EU leaders, meanwhile, Zelenskyy thanked them for working together to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia, including Germany’s decision to block Russia from delivering natural gas to Europe through the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline. However, he regretted not taking these actions earlier and said that Russia could have thought twice before invading.

Millions of Ukrainians are fleeing west. However, Ukraine accuses Moscow of forcing hundreds of thousands of people from the stricken cities of Russia to leave to pressurize Kyiv. Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, had been taken against their will into Russia, where some may be used as “hostages” to pressure Kyiv to surrender.

While the Kremlin provided almost identical numbers to those who were relocated, it said that they came from Donetsk and Luhansk, which are predominantly Russian-speaking areas in eastern Ukraine. They wanted to move to Russia. Pro-Moscow separatists are fighting to take control of these areas for almost eight years. There have also been many Russian-speaking residents who have supported close ties.

Other developments

—In Chernihiv, where an airstrike this week destroyed a crucial bridge, a city official, Olexander Lomako, said a “humanitarian catastrophe” is unfolding as Russian forces target food storage places. According to Lomako, there are approximately 130,000 residents still in the city under siege. This is about half of its population before war.

—Russia said it will offer safe passage starting Friday to 67 ships from 15 foreign countries that are stranded in Ukrainian ports because of the danger of shelling and mines.

—Russian forces fired two missiles late Thursday at a Ukrainian military unit on the outskirts of Dnipro, the fourth-largest city in the country, the regional emergency services said. It said that the strikes caused two fires and destroyed several buildings. Unknown was the number of people who died and those that were injured.

—With the U.S. and others expanding sanctions on Russia, Moscow sent a signal that the measures have not brought it to its knees, reopening its stock market but only allowing limited trading to prevent mass sell-offs. The ban on foreigners selling was lifted and the trading of short-selling prohibited. If this happened, betting prices could fall.

— The International Atomic Energy Agency said it has been told by Ukrainian authorities that Russian shelling is preventing worker rotations in and out of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. It said Russian forces have shelled Ukrainian checkpoints in the city of Slavutych, home to many Chernobyl nuclear workers, “putting them at risk and preventing further rotation of personnel to and from the site.”

Meanwhile, Kyiv and Moscow gave conflicting accounts about the people being relocated to Russia and whether they were going willingly — as Russia claimed — or were being coerced or lied to.

Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev stated that the approximately 400,000 Ukrainians who were evacuated to Russia received accommodation and payment and that they had left Ukraine voluntarily.

Donetsk Region Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said that “people are being forcibly moved into the territory of the aggressor state.”

Among those taken, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry charged, were 6,000 residents of Mariupol, the devastated port city in the country’s east.

Kyrylenko said that Mariupol’s residents have been long deprived of information and that the Russians feed them false claims about Ukraine’s defeats to persuade them to move to Russia.

“Russian lies may influence those who have been under the siege,” he said.


Qena reports from Kyiv (Ukraine). This report was contributed by Associated Press journalists from around the globe.

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