Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces of bombing a theater and a swimming pool in the besieged southern city of Mariupol, where hundreds of civilians, including pregnant women and children, are believed to have taken refuge fleeing the conflict.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration, posted photos and videos of the Mariupol Drama Theater and Neptune Pool buildings on Telegram, saying “Russians are deliberately attacking civilians”.
Photos showed the central part of the theater building completely destroyed by thick white smoke rising from the rubble. Videos from the pool showed blown windows, doors and the roof.
He said there were pregnant women and children under the rubble and called the attack “pure terrorism”.
Another horrible war crime in Mariupol. Massive Russian attack on the dramatic theater where hundreds of innocent civilians were hiding. The building is now completely destroyed. The Russians couldn’t help but know it was a civilian shelter. Save Mariupol! Stop the Russian war criminals! pic.twitter.com/bIQLxe7mli
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 16, 2022
Satellite images of the theater on March 14, shared by private satellite company Maxar, showed the words “children” clearly carved into the ground in Russian on either side of the building.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said Russia had committed a “horrendous war crime”.
“It is impossible to find words to describe the level of cynicism and cruelty with which the Russian invaders are destroying the peaceful inhabitants of a Ukrainian town by the sea,” he added.
The Russian Defense Ministry, however, denied attacking the building and accused the Azov Battalion, a far-right Ukrainian militia, of blowing it up, according to the RIA news agency.
He provided no evidence to support the allegation.
Mariupol authorities dismissed the Russian claim as a “lie”.
Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said the Russians “knew well that there were only children”.
The Mariupol City Council suggested that hundreds of people were in the building at the time of the attack.
“The invaders destroyed the drama theatre. A place where more than a thousand people have found refuge. We will never forgive him,” Mariupol city council said in a Telegram post.
Human Rights Watch said the theater housed at least 500 civilians.
“This raises serious concerns about the intended target in a city where civilians have already been under siege for days and where telecommunications, electricity, water and heating have been almost completely cut off,” said Belkis Wille, principal researcher in the field of rights. conflicts and crises division of the group.
Separately, Ukrainian authorities said at least 13 people were killed by Russian forces in the northern Ukrainian town of Chernihiv as they waited in line waiting for bread.
The Russian Defense Ministry again denied the charges, arguing that none of its troops were in Chernihiv and that the atrocity was carried out either by Ukrainian forces or simply a ruse by Ukrainian intelligence services.
Later Wednesday in the same town in northern Ukraine, five people, including three children, were killed when Russian forces shelled a residential building, emergency officials said.
Putin says the operation is going as planned
The latest attacks came as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its fourth week. Despite some officials’ expectations that Moscow would win the war within days, Russian troops failed to take any of the major Ukrainian cities and stopped at the gates of the Ukrainian capital, kyiv, after suffering heavy casualties.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday the operation was proceeding “successfully, in strict accordance with pre-approved plans”, and condemned Western sanctions against Moscow.
He accused the West of trying to “rush us, put pressure on us, make us a weak and dependent country”.
International pressure against the Kremlin intensified and its isolation deepened when the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, ordered Russia to stop attacking Ukraine, even though the We hardly expected her to comply.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Kyiv, said countries that refuse to comply with court orders can be referred to the United Nations Security Council, where Russia holds a veto. However, the ruling “helps build the case for any subsequent prosecutions,” Khan said.
The fighting has driven more than three million people to flee Ukraine, according to the UN refugee agency.
Another round of talks between the two sides was scheduled for Wednesday. After Tuesday’s talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said a neutral military status for Ukraine was “seriously discussed” by both sides, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the demands of the Russia to end the war became “more realistic”.
Hopes for diplomatic progress to end the war rose after Zelenskyy admitted Tuesday in the most explicit terms yet that Ukraine is unlikely to achieve its goal of joining NATO. Putin has long portrayed Ukraine’s NATO aspirations as a threat to Russia.
Lavrov welcomed Zelenskyy’s comment and said the “entrepreneurial spirit” beginning to surface in the talks “gives hope that we can agree on this issue.”
“A neutral status is seriously discussed in connection with security guarantees,” Lavrov told Russian television.
“There are concrete formulations that I believe are close to being agreed.”
Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said the parties were discussing a possible compromise for a Ukraine with a smaller, non-aligned army.
However, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak denied Russian claims that Ukraine was willing to adopt a model of neutrality comparable to Sweden or Austria. Podolyak said Ukraine needed strong allies and “clearly defined security guarantees” to keep it safe.
Earlier in a speech to the United States Congress via video link, Zelenskyy called for tougher sanctions against Russia and more weapons to help his country.
He invoked the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and quoted Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech to call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine – a move countries are against. Westerners, including the United States, have decided.
US President Joe Biden later announced that the United States would send more anti-aircraft, anti-armour and drone weapons and called Putin a “war criminal” in an interview with reporters. The Kremlin spokesman said the comment was “unacceptable and unforgivable rhetoric”.