Rescuers search theater rubble marked ‘CHILDREN’ as Russian attacks continue across Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Rescuers wanted for survivors Thursday in the ruins of a theater blown up by a Russian airstrike in the besieged city of Mariupolwhile dozens of Ukrainians across the country were killed in fierce urban attacks on a school, hostel and other sites.

Hundreds of civilians had taken refuge in the large columned theater in central Mariupol after their homes were destroyed in three weeks of fighting in the southern port city of 430,000 people.

More than a day after the airstrike, no deaths have been reported. With communications down throughout the city and travel difficult due to shelling and other fighting, there were conflicting reports as to whether anyone had emerged from the rubble.

“We hope and believe that some people who remained in the shelter under the theater might survive,” Petro Andrushchenko, an official in the mayor’s office, told The Associated Press. He said the building had a relatively modern basement, a bomb shelter designed to withstand airstrikes. Video and photos provided by the Ukrainian military showed the at least three-story building had been reduced to a roofless shell, with some exterior walls collapsed.

Other officials had said earlier that some people had walked out. Ukrainian mediator Ludmyla Denisova said on the Telegram messaging app that the shelter had held up.

Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies showed huge white letters on the pavement in front and behind the theater on Monday spelling out “CHILDREN” in Russian – “DETI” – to alert warplanes of those inside.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Mariupol Drama Theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, Monday, March 14, 2022. Ukrainian officials said Russian forces destroyed the theater in the city of Mariupol where hundreds of people gathered were refugees. There was no immediate word on the dead or injured in what the Mariupol city council said was an airstrike in theater on Wednesday. Satellite imagery company Maxar said images from Monday showed the word “children” had been written in large white letters in Russian in front and behind the building. (Maxar Technologies via AP)

Across the city, flurries fell around the skeletons of scorched apartment buildings, windowless and scarred by shrapnel as smoke rose above the horizon.

“We are trying to survive somehow,” said a Mariupol resident, who gave only her first name, Elena. “My child is hungry. I don’t know what to feed him.

She had tried to call her mother, who was in a town 80 kilometers away. “I can’t tell him I’m alive, you understand. There is no connection, just nothing,” she said.

Cars, some with the “Z” symbol of the Russian invasion force on their windows, drove past piles of crates of ammunition and artillery shells in a neighborhood controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

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

The strike against the theater was part of a furious bombardment of civilian sites in several cities over the past few days.

In the northern city of Chernihiv, at least 53 people have been taken to morgues in the past 24 hours, killed amid heavy Russian airstrikes and ground fire, local governor Viacheslav Chaus told reporters on Thursday. Ukrainian television.

Ukrainian emergency services said a mother, father and three of their children, including 3-year-old twins, were killed when a home in Chernihiv was bombed. Civilians were hiding in basements and shelters across the beleaguered city of 280,000.

“The city has never seen such nightmarish and colossal loss and destruction,” Chaus said.

Ukrainian officials said 10 people were killed on Wednesday as they waited in a bread line in Chernihiv. an american man was among them, his sister said on Facebook.

At least 21 people were killed when Russian artillery destroyed a school and community center before dawn in Merefa, near the northeastern city of Kharkiv, according to Mayor Veniamin Sitov. The area saw heavy shelling in an attempt to advance stalled Russian forces.

In eastern Ukraine, a municipal pool complex where pregnant women and women with children took refuge was also hit on Wednesday, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration. There was no word on the victims of this strike.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked for more help for his country in a video address to German lawmakers, saying thousands of people have been killed, including 108 children. He also referred to the dire situation in Mariupol, saying, “Everything is a target for them.”

The address began with a delay due to a technical problem caused by an attack near where Zelenskyy was speaking, Bundestag Vice President Katrin Goering-Eckardt said.

Zelenskyy’s office said Russian airstrikes hit the Kalynivka and Brovary suburbs of the capital, Kyiv. Emergency authorities in kyiv said a fire broke out in a 16-storey building hit by the remnants of a downed Russian rocket and one person was killed.

Zelenskyy said he was grateful to US President Joe Biden for his additional military aid, but he wouldn’t go into details about the new package, saying he didn’t want Russia to know what to expect. He said when the invasion began on February 24, Russia expected to find Ukraine as it did in 2014, when Russia seized Crimea without a fight and backed the separatists as they took control of the eastern region of Donbass.

Instead, he said, Ukraine had much stronger defenses than expected, and Russia “didn’t know what we had for the defense or how we were preparing for the hit.”

At a meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO had verified 43 attacks on hospitals and health facilities, killing 12 and injuring 34. Tedros said the disruption of hospital services now poses an extreme risk to people with serious illnesses and that “the life-saving medicine we need right now is peace”.

In a joint statement, foreign ministers from major Group of Seven economies accused Putin of waging an “unprovoked and shameful war” and called on Russia to comply with the International Court of Justice’s order to halt his attack and withdraw his forces.

Russian law enforcement, meanwhile, 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. Among those charged was Veronika Belotserkovskaya, a Russian-language cookbook author and blogger living abroad.

A day after Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal”, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said US officials were assessing and documenting potential war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine. Blinken said the intentional targeting of civilians would amount to a war crime and there would be “massive consequences” for any such crime that is confirmed.

Ukraine and Russia reported progress in the negotiations this week. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that some negotiators were splitting into working groups, “but there should be contacts today.”

Zelenskyy said he would not reveal Ukraine’s negotiating tactics.

“Working more quietly than on TV, radio or Facebook,” Zelenskyy said. “I consider it the right way.”

While details of Thursday’s talks were unknown, an official in Zelenskyy’s office told the AP that on Wednesday the main topic discussed was whether Russian troops would remain in breakaway regions 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 legally binding security guarantees for the Ukraine.

In exchange, the official said, Ukraine was ready to discuss a neutral military status.

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

The fighting has driven more than 3 million people to flee Ukraine, the UN estimates. The death toll remains unknown, although Ukraine said thousands of civilians had died.

Amanda J. Marsh