Kyiv, Ukraine — On Wednesday, Russian troops destroyed a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of people were hiding and continued shelling other cities, according to Ukrainian authorities. Meanwhile, both sides were optimistic about efforts to negotiate a cessation of hostilities.
There were no immediate details of those killed or injured in what the Mariupol city council described as a theater airstrike.
Residents of Kyiv huddled in houses and shelters amid a citywide curfew that will last until Thursday morning, when Russia shelled areas in and around the city, including a residential area 2.5 kilometers from the presidential palace.
In the center of Kyiv, a 12-storey building caught fire from shrapnel.
In Chernihiv, a city in the north of the country, 10 people died in line for bread, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine said.
International pressure on Moscow mounted and its isolation deepened when the International Court of Justice ordered Russia to stop attacking Ukraine, though there was little hope that it would agree. Moreover, the Council of Europe, the main human rights body of the continent, consisting of 47 countries, has excluded Russia.
As Moscow’s ground offensive against the Ukrainian capital appeared to be difficult, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the operation was “successful, in strict accordance with pre-approved plans.”
He condemned the sanctions against Moscow and accused the West of trying to “hurry us, put pressure on us, make us a weak and dependent country.”
The next round of talks between the two sides was scheduled for Wednesday. After talks on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine’s neutral military status was “seriously considered” by both sides.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, for his part, described Russia’s demands for an end to the war as “becoming more realistic.”
Hopes for diplomatic progress rose after Mr. Zelenskiy said on Tuesday that Ukraine must accept that it cannot join NATO, his most unequivocal admission that the goal enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution is unlikely to be achieved. .
President Putin has long denounced Ukraine’s NATO aspirations as a threat to Russia, which the Western military alliance has denied.
Mr. Lavrov welcomed Mr. Zelenskiy’s comment and said the “rational spirit” that is beginning to emerge in the talks “gives hope that we can agree on this issue.”
“The status of neutrality is being seriously discussed within the framework of security guarantees,” Lavrov told the Russian channel RBC-TV on Wednesday. There are specific formulations that, I believe, are close to being agreed.”
Chief Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky added that the parties are discussing a possible compromise idea of a future Ukraine with a smaller non-aligned army.
However, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough were highly uncertain due to the gulf between Ukraine’s demand for a complete withdrawal of the invasion forces and Russia’s perceived military goal to replace the pro-government leadership west of Kyiv with a pro-Moscow leadership.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak refuted Russian claims that Ukraine is ready to accept a model of neutrality comparable to Sweden or Austria. He clarified on Telegram that Ukraine needs strong allies and “clearly defined security guarantees.”
Other sources of contention between the two sides also include the status of Crimea, a peninsula south of Ukraine seized and annexed by Russia in 2014, and the breakaway region of Donbass in the east of the country, which Moscow recognizes as independent. Ukraine considers these two regions to be part of its territory.
Humanitarian crisis escalates
The UN reports that the number of people fleeing Ukraine due to the fiercest fighting in Europe since World War II has exceeded three million. She reports that more than 700 civilians were killed and 1,143 people were injured, but admits that these figures are probably underestimated.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, has arrived in Ukraine to try to provide better access for aid teams and strengthen the protection of civilians.
Amid the vast humanitarian crisis caused by the war, the Red Cross helped evacuate civilians from besieged areas and delivered 200 tons of humanitarian aid, including medical supplies, blankets, water and more than 5,200 body bags, to “ensure the dignified treatment of the dead.” manner.”
Mariupol, a strategic port city of 430,000 on the Sea of Azov, has undoubtedly been hit the hardest. The city was surrounded by Russian troops for two weeks and was subjected to heavy artillery shelling, which, according to local authorities, killed more than 2,300 people, and the inhabitants had to fight for food, water, heating and medicine.
Local authorities mentioned that Russian troops took hundreds of people hostage in a hospital in Mariupol and that the Russians used them as human shields.
The bodies were buried in the trenches of Mariupol, other corpses lay on the streets and in the basements of the hospital.
After illuminating the basement with a mobile phone flashlight, Dr. Valery Drengar pulled back the covers to reveal the body of a 22-day-old baby. The other wrapped bodies also looked childish given their size.
“These are the people we could not save,” Dr. Drengar testified.
Doctors from other hospitals in Mariupol made a video to tell the world about the horrors they saw. “We don’t want to be posthumous heroes and martyrs,” said one woman. She also said that it is not enough to call treated patients injured: “Arms and legs are torn off, eyes gouged out, bodies are torn to pieces, entrails fall out.”
About 30,000 people were able to escape from Mariupol in thousands of vehicles through the humanitarian corridor on Tuesday, according to city officials.
However, with humanitarian aid unable to be delivered due to the constant shelling, people are burning pieces of furniture to warm their hands and cook what little is left.
Dealing with Escalation
The head of the Kiev region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said Russian troops have stepped up fighting in the suburbs of the capital, including around the city of Bucha in the northwest and the highway leading to the west.
According to Mr. Kuleba, throughout the metropolitan area, “kindergartens, museums, churches, residential buildings and engineering infrastructure suffer from endless shelling.”
He added that Russian troops were trying to cut off transport links to the capital and destroy logistical capabilities, planning a full-scale attack to capture the capital.
British and American intelligence estimated that Russian ground forces remained about 15 kilometers from the center of Kyiv.
According to Kuleba, Russian forces managed to occupy the town of Ivankov, 80 kilometers north of Kyiv, and take control of the adjacent area on the border with Belarus.
Meanwhile, the mayor of the city of Melitopol, which was captured by Russian troops five days ago, has been released, said Andriy Yermak, head of presidential administration Zelensky. No details about his release have been released.
Ukraine seems to have made some progress. Planet Labs PBC satellite photos analyzed by the Associated Press show burning helicopters and vehicles at the Russian-held Kherson International Airport and Air Base following an alleged Ukrainian strike on Tuesday.
Zelenskiy’s office also said Ukrainian forces had thwarted Russian attempts to enter Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which has been under near-constant strikes over the past 24 hours. At night, a powerful explosion thundered over the city.
As the West tried to beef up Ukraine’s defenses while ratcheting up sanctions against Russia, NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on Wednesday ahead of an emergency NATO military summit next week.
Meanwhile, the prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia returned to Poland on Wednesday after a risky visit to Kyiv to show their support for Ukraine.