Kyiv, Ukraine. On Friday, Ukrainian authorities said about 300 people were killed when a Russian airstrike destroyed a theater in the devastated city of Mariupol, where hundreds of civilians were hiding. pressure on the West to increase military aid.
In a futile attempt to protect those inside the large pillared theater from the missiles and airstrikes that Russia is unleashing on cities, a huge sign reading “CHILDREN” in Russian was posted outside the building and was visible from the air.
For several days, the government of the devastated port city could not name the number of victims of the March 16 attack. A post on his Telegram channel on Friday cited eyewitnesses. It was not immediately clear whether the rescuers had finished searching for the ruins of the theater and how the witnesses arrived at the heavy victims.
However, the emerging picture of horrendous casualties may refocus attention on the refusal so far of the countries of the NATO alliance to provide fighter jets or carry out space patrols by the Ukrainian airline. The beleaguered president of the country has repeatedly called for such protective measures against such strikes.
Shortly after the attack, Lyudmila Denisova, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner, said more than 1,300 people were inside, including several houses whose homes had been destroyed during the Russian siege of the city. There was a relatively modern bomb shelter in the building’s basement, and some survivors made their way out of the rubble after the attack.
Help will come, we promise
The new casualties were announced a day after US President Joe Biden and other leaders promised after a meeting in Brussels that Ukraine would receive additional military assistance. But they did not provide the heavy weapons desired by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. NATO countries fear that providing planes, tanks and other equipment that Mr. Zelensky urgently needs will increase the risk of them being drawn into a direct conflict with Russia.
But the United States and the European Union have announced a decision to further increase the pressure on Russia: to create a new partnership to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and gradually reduce the billions of dollars the Kremlin receives from the sale of fossil fuels.
Despite efforts against the Russian economy to push the Kremlin to change course, the plight of civilians in the cities continues to worsen, and day by day they look more like the ruins left behind by Russian forces from previous campaigns in Syria and Chechnya.
Those who might try to run. In Kharkov, which was under relentless shelling, mostly elderly women came for groceries and other necessities. In the capital Kyiv, the ashes of the dead are being piled up in the main crematorium because so many loved ones have left, leaving the urns unclaimed.
Meanwhile, vulnerable people – the elderly, children and others unable to join the millions of refugees heading west – face food shortages in a country once known as the breadbasket of the world.
Unable to quickly capture Kyiv, which was their obvious goal on February 24 when the Kremlin launched the war, Russian troops are instead raining artillery and rockets on the cities from afar. In Kyiv, as in other countries, the population has declined sharply. The huge refugee crisis has displaced more than 10 million people, and at least 3.5 million have left the country altogether.
The Russian military said on Friday it had destroyed a huge Ukrainian fuel base that was used to supply defenses in the Kiev region with a salvo of cruise missiles fired from ships, the Interfax news agency reported. A video posted on social media showed a powerful explosion of a fireball near the capital.
On Friday, the outskirts of Kharkov were shrouded in thick smoke, since early morning there were continuous shelling. A day later, several wounded soldiers with gunshot and shrapnel wounds were admitted to the city hospital after doctors treated about a dozen civilians. Even when the doctors stabilized the most severe case, the sound of artillery fire could be heard in the operating room.
At an emergency NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday, Zelenskiy implored Western allies via video for jets, tanks, missiles, air defense systems and other weapons, saying his country was “protecting our common values.”
The invasion has exacerbated the energy and moral dilemma for European countries that heat their homes and fuel their industries with Russian hydrocarbons. Worried that the Kremlin could divert the billions they are paying to the military, they are speeding up the search for alternatives.
On Friday, Germany said it had struck deals with new suppliers that would significantly reduce its reliance on Russian coal, gas and oil in the coming weeks. Biden explained that the new US-EU gas supply partnership would help undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin’s use of energy sales to “twist arms and manipulate neighbors” and “control his war machine.” According to the plan, the US and other countries will increase LNG exports to Europe by 15 billion cubic meters this year.
As millions of Ukrainians fled west, Ukraine accused Moscow of forcibly deporting hundreds of thousands of civilians from destroyed cities to Russia to force Kyiv to surrender. Kommissar Denisova said that 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, were taken against their will to Russia, where some of them could be used as “hostages” to force Kyiv to surrender.
The Kremlin gave nearly identical numbers for those who were resettled, but said they came from the predominantly Russian-speaking Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine and wanted to move to Russia. Pro-Moscow separatists have been fighting for control of these regions for almost eight years.
In other developments:
— In Chernihiv, where an important bridge was destroyed in an airstrike this week, city official Oleksandr Lomako said a “humanitarian catastrophe” is unfolding as Russian troops strike food depots. He said that about 130,000 people remained in the besieged city, about half of its pre-war population.
— Russia has assured that from Friday it will provide safe passage for 67 ships from 15 foreign countries that are stuck in Ukrainian ports due to the danger of shelling and mines.
— The International Atomic Energy Agency said Ukrainian authorities told it Russian bombing was preventing the movement of workers to and from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. She added that Russian troops had bombed Ukrainian checkpoints in the city of Slavutych, home to many Chernobyl nuclear workers, “putting them at risk and preventing further personnel transfers to and from the facility.”